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.