Tight labor markets are pushing employers to disregard college degrees.
Companies including Google, Delta Air Lines Inc., and International Business Machines Corp. have reduced educational requirements for certain positions, shifting their focus to skills and experience. Maryland this year cut the college-degree requirement for many of its state jobs. Incoming Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, campaigned on a similar initiative.
U.S. job postings requiring a bachelor's degree stood at 41% in November, down from 46% at the start of the pandemic, according to an analysis by the Burning Glass Institute, a think tank that studies the future of work.
The shift in attention comes when demand remains high and unemployment is low. The tight labor market finds itself at odds with encouraging more to attend four-year college while addressing racial disparities in the workplace.
While some occupations require degrees, there are some where there is a middle ground, such as in tech positions, which tend to have varying degree requirements depending on the industry, company, and strength of the labor market and economy.
More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have completed Google's online college-alternative programs that offer training in fast-growing fields such as digital marketing and project management. Google and 150 other companies are using the program to hire entry-level workers.
According to spokeswoman Ashley Bright, most U.S. roles at IBM no longer require a four-year degree after a review of its hiring practices.
Delta eased requirements for their pilots at the start of the year, saying a four-year college degree was preferred but no longer required.
Walmart, which prides itself on its work ethic and with 75% of its U.S. salaried store management starting from hourly jobs, seeks to do much the same.
"We don't require degrees for most of our jobs in the field and increasingly in the home office as well," Kathleen McLaughlin, Walmart executive vice president, said at an online event this fall. The company's goal is to shift the "focus from the way someone got their skills, which is the degree, to what skills do they have."
A four-year college degree holder has more lifetime earnings than one without: $2.8 million compared to $1.6 million, according to a 2021 report by the Center on Education and Workforce at Georgetown University.
More than 43 million people in the U.S. hold $1.6 trillion in student-loan debt. While a college degree can provide a lot of different pathways, there are arguably other means to move forward and attain those skills.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in March said the government would review college-degree requirements for every state job. State and local governments have struggled to hire in the tight labor market; but after a year of implementation, signs are showing success. State employees without a four-year degree from May to August are up 41% from the previous year, while all employees hired are up 14%.
[email protected], a nonprofit that wants to eliminate degree requirements, worked with Maryland on its program. Bridgette Gray, the chief customer officer, said around 70 million Americans over 25 are in the workforce today and don't hold a college degree. Approximately four million are in high-wage careers.
"College is a clear pathway to upward mobility, but it shouldn't be the only pathway," she said.
Mark Townend, leading the recruiting efforts in Maryland's state jobs, said it helps the government find employees easier. His team has been rewriting nearly 2,500 job classifications for almost 60,000 state workers.
"We basically had a need for more applicants," he said. "There is a large population of non-degree candidates who are good for our jobs."
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