Will the Great Resignation Drive Jobs to Drop College Requirements?

Some technologists don’t go to college, for a variety of reasons ranging from cost to scheduling. But will that harm their ability to get a tech job? New data suggests that companies are adjusting their requirements for new positions, often focusing on skills and experience in place of a formal degree.

A recent report published by the Emsi Burning Glass Institute and Harvard Business School, “The Emerging Degree Reset,” discusses how 46 percent of middle-skill occupations, along with 31 percent of high-skill occupations, experienced “material degree resets” between 2017 and 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated this trend, and 1.4 million jobs “could open to workers without college degrees” by 2027.

“Multiple technology companies have publicly announced their commitment to prioritize skills over degrees in IT occupations,” the report added. “Several, most notably Accenture and IBM, have made material changes in job requirements across their organizations. Others have made only modest changes in their requirements for specific positions, suggesting that corporate commitments have yet to translate to practical implementation of skills-based hiring strategies.”

The big question is whether the Great Resignation will accelerate this trend even more. “Many companies rely on machine learning algorithms that automatically weed out job applicants who don’t meet certain minimum requirements, such as holding a college degree, so qualified people are often shut out of the candidate pool before hiring managers can get a closer look at them,” mentions a new note from Harvard Business School, paraphrasing the opinion of Professor Boris Groysberg. “But especially now, when employers need workers—and workers need jobs—it just makes sense for human resources departments to take a good, hard look at altering these hiring credentials and softening their degree requirements.”

As that “Emerging Degree Reset” report noted, not every tech company has lowered the percentage of jobs requiring a college degree; while fewer positions at Apple and Google require a BA, for example, giants such as Microsoft and Intel have yet to lower their percentages significantly. But these companies are also locked in a fierce competition for talent—Microsoft recently announced it would boost the size of its merit-based salary increases and stock grants in order to attract and retain its employees.

At smaller companies, the battle for talent is just as fierce—and managers don’t have a Google-sized budget for winning the technologists they want. Offering a great culture and work-life balance, as well as a solid mix of benefits and perks, can help secure the hires they need—but adjusting degree requirements could also increase the applicant pool. The key, of course, is technologists demonstrating during the interview process that they’ve mastered the necessary skills.

2 Responses to “Will the Great Resignation Drive Jobs to Drop College Requirements?”

  1. Jake Leone

    Companies claim there is a shortage of candidates. But the truth is, Big, established Tech companies have never had any problems finding candidates. We’ve seen this truth exposed in the DOJ lawsuit against Facebook, involving 2600+ cases of discrimination, against fully qualified local candidates (over just a 1.5 year period). Facebook literally hides job ads from local tech workers, in order to protect Green Card candidate from serious local competition (by Facebook’s own admission to Federal investigators, under threat of an Obstruction of Justice charge should they lie or mislead the investigators).
    Small tech companies, are not worth working for. I worked for a a couple of small companies, early on, big mistake (or I should say, what choice did I have). And the reason is small tech companies (startups) fail, and they will leave you unemployed.
    So let’s keep it clear, what Companies want is a worker that is tied to the job, forever for some reason (ex: the Green Card wait period). Such workers don’t jump ship over salary, or to start a competitive business. (BTW, the biggest innovative strength of the U.S. economy, has been the ability of workers to jump ship and start competing companies, that happens more on the west coast because non-compete contracts are discouraged by California’s labor laws).
    As for the degree? Well, technology changes all the time. Right now I am studying transformers (see the OPENAI demo on a Codex, very impressive). I can’t run off to a college somewhere and sit in a class room to learn this, I bought a couple of books and I am studying on my own time (it’s not an easy subject, but I can understand it at the mathematical level).
    But will the lack of degree hamper me? Yes, it will, and that’s because HR will write the job requirements as must have 6+ years of experience writing transformers (the seminal doc on transformers is from 2017) and must have a degree with a focus on Computer Science and transformers.
    That’s what happens. Then they reject all the applicants without degrees, and because no one can have experience 6+ years in Transformers, they will simply find someone, that someone outside the company that someone else in the company already knows and that has a degree.
    The kinds of jobs I tend to get offered (I had a Google recruiter bother me for a about 2-years) are jobs in some basement tending machines on a server farm.
    So the truth is, without a degree, you won’t get that hot new job, at a company worth working for. And established tech companies won’t even consider you, unless you know someone on the inside that can vouch for you.
    Having said that, well I am actually a great candidate, and I have the best qualification. The qualification that Facebook perjured itself 2600+ times on a Green Card applications for (over just a 1.5 year periods, probably more like 10,000 times over the last 13 years). I can’t switch jobs easily. Lucky for me, I work for a great employer, and I get exposed to the latest tech. Everyone at work knows my capabilities. I mentor quite a few people locally and overseas.
    I won’t go to work for a startup. A startup probably would hire me. But what good is that, if 6 months or a year later you are unemployed when the company folds. And contract jobs, at companies that not software focused is also a big mistake for a career programmer.
    Transformers could be a big thing. I we can add NLP to our product, we could really help out the customers and put our product way ahead of any potential competitor (mostly startups). So If, by learning Transformer tech, I can help out, well that suits me fine.

  2. John Pittaway

    I’ve been a coding level software engineer for higher for 23 years without a degree. The degree reset dates from the end of the Cold War in 1990. Companies had to figure out how to survive after being on war time like federal budgets since 1939. That’s when I started to “college degree or equivalent experience”. As to Google/Microsoft/Face Book, I wouldn’t work for them anyway.