Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

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At one time, a college degree was the passport to a “good” job. That’s still the case in many professions today, but things are starting to change. Walmart recently announced plans to drop degree requirements for some corporate roles. It says it will now consider applicants if they possess the necessary skills “through previous experience or other forms of learning”. Walmart is not alone. Accenture, Bank of America, Delta, Google, IBM and Kellogg’s, among others, have also reduced the number of jobs requiring post-secondary qualifications. The result is that 20% of U.S. jobs on LinkedIn don’t require a four-year college degree, and the share of these job posts has grown by 30% in six months.

Several factors have likely contributed to this emerging trend, not least a challenging post-pandemic hiring climate. Despite a weakening economy, employers are still struggling to attract the talent they need, with the latest data showing that there are 9.6 million open jobs in the U.S. but only 6.4 million unemployed workers to fill them. Removing academic criteria reduces barriers to job entry and gives companies access to a more extensive and, crucially, diverse pool of potential employees with different life experiences.

Also, fewer people are going to college these days. While the college enrolment rate for 2022 high school graduates increased by 0.9 percent from 2021, it’s still below pre-pandemic levels, largely due to rising costs and the widening gap between tuition fees and the salaries students can expect to earn after graduation. So, some employers are expanding their horizons rather than limiting themselves to a shrinking talent pool.

Skills Over School

That’s not to say employers no longer value degrees. However, rather than judging candidates solely on their academic credentials, hiring managers are starting to consider other factors for some roles. Their main concern is not exam success but what a candidate can do.

This new approach requires a change in mindset and practices. If employers aren’t using a degree as a proxy for certain skills as they’ve done in the past, how can they validate a candidate’s suitability accurately?

Recalibrating Roles and Job Descriptions

The first step is considering which roles don’t need a college degree. Could candidates have acquired the necessary skills in other ways – whether through community college, military service, or work experience – or could on-the-job training fill the gaps? Additionally, are these roles currently being performed successfully by employees without a degree?

Once the appropriate roles have been identified, it’s a case of mapping out the technical, industry and sector skills both required and desired to do the job and including them on job adverts and the job description. Of course, when transitioning to skills-based hiring, companies will also need to look beyond their traditional advertising channels to appeal to a wider range of candidates.

Rethinking The Selection Process

This laser focus on skills should carry through to the screening and interview process.

Employers are increasingly using psychometric testing to evaluate candidates, especially in the early stages. Tests can assess candidates’ skills and capabilities as well as their personality, i.e., their ability to fit into the team and company.

Competency-based interviews – which require candidates to recall their previous experiences – are another effective way for employers to find out who will be able to perform in the role. Employers can use a set script or a score-based system for assessing candidates, giving every applicant an equal opportunity to shine.

Gamification – which integrates game mechanics and design principles into non-game contexts – can also help revitalize the hiring process. The main advantage of gamification is that it looks beyond traditional metrics such as résumés and qualifications, and enables candidates to demonstrate their skills. As the CEO of Totem Learning Limited, Helen Routledge, points out, “A game doesn’t care who you are… it just wants to know, can you do the job.” And surely someone’s suitability for the role is what matters most?

New Approach to Talent for a New World of Work

Undoubtedly, a good degree in a relevant subject can help people get their foot in the door, but there’s a growing recognition that a diploma is not the only marker of success. Skills, experience and a willingness to learn can be equally valid indicators of a candidate’s potential. According to Deloitte, employers who realize this and prioritize skills stand to benefit. They are “107 percent more likely to place talent effectively and 98 percent more likely to retain high performers and have a reputation as a great place to grow and develop.”

The world of work is changing, driven by new working models and innovations such as AI. Perhaps it’s time our approach to talent selection evolved, too.

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