In recent years, bachelor’s degrees have gone from giving young professionals a leg up in the job market to being a must-have credential for a wide range of careers, with college graduates taking the vast majority of new jobs created in the US since the end of the Great Recession nearly a decade ago. More recently, however, employers have begun to question whether these degrees are always necessary and dropping degree requirements for some roles.
A tight labor market and talent shortages in high-demand fields are driving this trend further. Last week, the Wall Street Journal highlighted an analysis of 15 million job ads by Burning Glass Technologies, which found that the share of job postings requiring a college degree had fallen from 32 percent to 30 percent between 2017 and the first half of 2018, down from 34 percent in 2012. Work experience requirements are also declining, with only 23 percent of entry-level jobs asking applicants for three years of experience or more, compared to 29 percent in 2012. That means there are an additional 1.2 million jobs accessible to candidates with little or no experience today than a few years ago.
With growing numbers of unfilled jobs, more companies are looking for ways to broaden their talent pool and speed up the rate at which they can fill a role. “Downskilling,” or requiring less work experience and education, is a strategy many companies have opted for to achieve this. One field in which many employers have “downskilled” to broaden their applicant pool is cybersecurity.
Orange Line Media/Shutterstock
Even with talent in short supply, many US employers are seeking applicants for entry-level professional roles with several years of relevant work experience, disqualifying most fresh graduates, SHRM’s Roy Maurer reports:
A recent analysis of over 95,000 job postings by job-matching software firm TalentWorks revealed how difficult it can be for newly minted grads to find an entry-level job within their experience level. The research found that 61 percent of all full-time jobs seeking entry-level employees required at least three years or more of experience. Similarly, when labor market analytics company Burning Glass Technologies analyzed 25 million entry-level job postings from 2010 to 2016, it found an increase in the number of soft and hard skills being demanded. …
“We saw some employers increase experience requirements during the recession and decrease them during the recovery,” [Alicia Modestino, associate professor at Northeastern University School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs] said. “But another set of employers increased their requirements during the recession and have maintained them since then.” The organizations with those “sticky requirements” tend to be hiring for high-skilled occupations, which also require higher education and advanced degrees, she said.
Executives at recruiting and staffing firms tell Maurer that these experience requirements are often excessive and cause employers to discount candidates who would be successful in these roles. Skills learned at one job are not always immediately transferable to a new job, even in the same field, so the benefit employers gain from being able to train experienced recruits more quickly may not make up for them missing out on qualified entry-level talent without that experience. Besides, if every entry-level role required experience, where would newly-minted graduates work?
Most of the new jobs created in the US in the wake of the Great Recession have gone to workers with college degrees, and the wage premium Americans gain from holding a bachelor’s degree rather than just a high school diploma is higher than it has been in 40 years. Partly due to the higher number of college-educated candidates on the market, a bachelor’s degree has become a baseline requirement for most middle-class jobs. The decline of good jobs for less educated and lower-skilled workers is commonly understood to be a driver of inequality and social stratification in the US today.
A new report published on Tuesday by Harvard Business School, Accenture, and Grads of Life underlines the extent to which “degree inflation”—jobs for which a college degree was once optional and is now a requirement—is compounding this problem. According to the report, 6 million American jobs are at risk of degree inflation, as employers have “defaulted to using college degrees as a proxy for a candidate’s range and depth of skills.”
Axios’ Christopher Matthews discusses the report’s implications with one of its authors:
“This phenomenon is a major driver of income inequality,” Joe Fuller of Harvard Business School tells Axios. “We’re hollowing out middle-class jobs and driving everyone to the extremes of the income spectrum.” …
In the fast-changing work environment of today, blue-collar jobs are being transformed and displaced by the advent of automation, while many of the fastest-growing jobs are in human-focused fields like health care. These changes have consequences in terms of gender dynamics in the workplace, as the jobs that are disappearing are traditionally “male”, while those that are growing are mostly dominated by women. At the Atlantic, Alana Semuels captures the experience of men in parts of the US where blue-collar work has dried up, as they find themselves shifting into jobs that were once considered “women’s work”:
Janette Dill, a sociology professor at the University of Akron, has found that men gravitate towards a certain kind of health-care job, avoiding the patient-centric kind of work that has traditionally been classified as female— jobs such as home health aides or nursing assistants. Instead, men tend to go work as surgical technologists, radiology technicians, and respiratory therapists. These are jobs that are new enough that they haven’t yet been defined as “women’s” work, Dill said.
These jobs are often portrayed as being technical, rather than nurturing. “There’s not that stigma around this kind of work,” she told me. In 1996, according to Dill, 16 percent of these types of jobs were held by men, but by 2008, that number had risen to 26 percent. The BLS has up-to-date numbers on some such jobs. Its data shows that while in 2016 there were a much greater share of women than men in most health-care support jobs, some occupations had a significant share of men. Men made up almost one-third of technicians in clinical labs, and 35 percent of what the BLS calls “miscellaneous” health technicians.
Last week, Bloomberg’s Jordan Yadoo called attention to some new Labor Department data showing that American men are enrolling in college at record rates:
Of the 1.5 million men in the high school graduating class of 2016, just over one million, or 67 percent, were enrolled in two- or four-year institutions last fall, according to new Labor Department data. That’s up more than 6 percentage points from 2012, surpassing recession-era levels when the weak economy pushed students to stay in school and wait out the downturn. It’s also the highest share on record in Labor Department data going back to 1993 and in an alternative series from the National Center for Education Statistics going back to 1960. …
The steady rise in male college enrollment since 2012 suggests that young men “seem to have gotten the message” that securing a stable job these days requires more than a high school diploma, according to Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in Washington.
Carnevale is one of the authors of a report last year that underscored the essentiality of a college degree in today’s job market, finding that the vast majority of new jobs created since the end of the Great Recession had gone to employees with at least a bachelor’s degree. Other research has also pointed to the need for men, in particular, to pursue higher education in greater numbers.
Digiday’s Grace Caffyn shines a light on a noteworthy trend among advertising agencies in the UK, several of which have recently opened up their recruiting to candidates without university degrees, in response to the growing cost of higher education and the industry’s lack of diversity:
In January, Dentsu Aegis Network, JWT and CHI & Partners all welcomed their first non-degree candidates. Rather than looking at grades or job history, both JWT and CHI & Partners now review how candidates answer four questions (like, “Tell us about one brand that you think badly needs our help and why”) to gauge their understanding of the industry. Teams then select new starters from an interview day involving 50 candidates. These candidates do not necessarily need a degree beyond secondary school.
“We felt we were missing out on good people because of that qualification,” explained Fern Nott, head of talent at WPP agency CHI & Partners. “You don’t need a degree to be a good fit for advertising.”
No organization is exempt from the impact of a tight market for tech talent: In the past year, even US government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security have had trouble recruiting the engineers, hackers, and cybersecurity professionals they need to face emerging cyberthreats. Now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is reportedly considering relaxing some of its stringent hiring requirements to help bridge that gap. The Associated Press reports on a series of recent speeches by FBI Director James Comey in which he suggested that the bureau is considering lowering some of its barriers to entry for this talent cohort, in order to compete with private sector employers offering higher salaries:
He’s floated the idea of scrapping a requirement that agents who leave the FBI but want to return after two years must re-enroll in the bureau’s storied but arduous Quantico, Virginia, training academy. He’s also lamented, half-jokingly, that otherwise qualified applicants may be discouraged from applying because of a fondness for marijuana. … Comey has suggested the FBI may need to build its own university to groom cyber talent and questioned whether every member of a cyber squad actually needs to be a gun-carrying agent.