Employers across a range of industries are dropping a job requirement once considered a ticket to a higher paying job and financial security: a college degree.
Today's tight labor market has led more companies instead to take a more skills-based approach to hiring, as evidenced on job search sites like Indeed and ZipRecruiter.
"Part of it is employers realizing they may be able to do a better job finding the right talent by looking for the skills or competencies someone needs to do the job and not letting a degree get in the way of that," Parisa Fatehi-Weeks, senior director of environmental, social and governance (ESG) for hiring platform Indeed told CBS MoneyWatch.
The relaxing of high education requirements is in effect serving to correct so-called degree inflation, or when employers increasingly require a college degree for jobs that don't require college-level skills, which has long been the norm in recruiting.
In 2023, the share of jobs on hiring platform ZipRecruiter that listed a bachelor's degree as a requirement dropped to 14.5%, from 18% in 2022.
Prioritizing skills over diplomas
Additionally, 45% of employers surveyed by the firm said they had done away with degree requirements for certain roles over the past year. Seventy-two percent of firms said they prioritize candidates' skills and experience over the diplomas they hold, according to ZipRecruiter.
The opposite trend played out during The Great Recession in the late 2000s, when the share of job postings requiring a bachelor's degree rose from 12% to 20%, according to ZipRecruiter.
"Employers upskilled jobs and snapped up graduates on the cheap," ZipRecruiter's chief economist Julia Pollack told CBS MoneyWatch.
The trend is slightly more prevalent among small businesses, with 47% of small and medium-sized businesses more likely to cross a college degree off the list of desired or necessary attributes in a candidate, compared with 35% of larger businesses, according to the ZipRecruiter survey.
"Employers are resorting to skills-based hiring and saying, 'We don't care if you finished college,'" Pollack said. "There's a clear trend where smaller businesses are more likely to say they're doing this versus major enterprises."
Not everyone is on board with letting go of college requirements, however. A little over half of survey respondents, 53%, acknowledged "hiring manager insistence that candidates have a specific background (e.g. a college, degree)."
"We'll invest in training you"
Many firms in the health care industry, motivated largely by how difficult it is to recruit qualified workers including pharmacists, home health aides and more, are dropping degree requirements for some job applicants.
In 2022, 12% of health care job postings required college degrees, compared to just 9.3% in 2023, according to ZipRecruiter.
"It makes sense because labor shortages are most acute in health care. It's where we see the largest numbers of unfilled job openings," Pollack said. "The difficulty filling vacancies is prompting employers to relax requirements where they can."
To be sure, health care is a highly regulated industry with high, mandatory licensing requirements for many of its occupations.
"Employers are saying, 'We'll take you and help you get the requirements. We'll invest in training you,'" Pollack said.
Education sector lowers bar for teachers
Education is another employment sector lowering college degree hurdles for job candidates. The move is one of many being taken by the schools to combat widespread teacher shortages, asover large class sizes, insufficient resources and pay that hasn't kept pace with inflation.
In the meantime, many classrooms across the U.S. are currently staffed by substitute teachers with few credentials.
"Children are being taught by people without required teaching credentials," Pollack said. "So they are almost formalizing what's taking place by reducing the licensing requirements for teachers and removing college graduation as a requirement, in some cases."
Other moves to recruit people to the profession include
There's even been a decline in financial sector job postings that require a college degree, according to Pollack.
That's in part because many quantitatively-minded college graduates have preferred, in recent years, to enter the technology industry versus banking, "where schedules are punishing and burnout is high," Pollack said.
Now employers are saying, "If you can ace the licensing exam, we'll take you," she added.
Indeed itself has removed degrees as requirements for hundreds of job postings at the company, including for software engineer and product manager roles.
Fatehi-Weeks at Indeed sees the trend as a positive one that benefits both companies and workers.
"It's one of those rare things that is good for both the employer and job seeker," she said. "You rarely have a win-win situation, but this is one of them where employers can access more talent and be specific about what skills they need, and job seekers have more doors open to them if we get ride of the degree inflation."
Long-term career benefits
Experts don't expect fewer young people to pursue four-year degrees, nor do they recommend skipping college. But they acknowledge that it can take time — even years — for a college diploma to pay off in the workplace.
"People shouldn't pursue a four-year degree as a ticket to an immediate first job. It's meant to make people mobile past that first job," Diane Gayeski, former dean and professor of strategic communication at Ithaca College and an adviser at Intelligent.com, a college resource site for students, told CBS MoneyWatch. "When it's time to move on from that entry-level job into a leadership position, employers will look for broader experiences and the ability to be creative based on exposure to a wide variety of concepts and ideas."
In other words, attending college isn't only about racking up educational credentials — it's also a place where young people can learn soft skills, such as the ability to work as part of or lead a team, as well as the kind of vital critical thinking and communication skills necessary for so many careers.
"These are all developed through courses and other experiences of going to college," Gayeski said. "And people find as they progress in careers, they're inspired by things they never thought they'd use in their jobs later."
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