Degree inflation: Why asking for college degrees for jobs you don’t need is a mistake

When President Joe Biden recently touted the hundreds of billions of dollars invested in American manufacturing in the past two years, he included a talking point that previous Democratic presidents may not have been so proud of. He said the new factories in Ohio could create thousands of jobs that pay $130,000 annually, many of which do not require a college degree.

When Biden highlighted those non-college jobs in the state of the union, it was just three weeks after Democratic incumbent Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro Condition cancelled A four-year college degree for most jobs in Pennsylvania state government, two months after Republican Utah won Governor Spencer Cox did the sameand nearly a year after Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan Launch this trend. Since the Presidential State of the Union, Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy She has also followed suit.

Maryland’s newly elected Democratic governor, Wes Moore, plans to continue opening government jobs to workers without a college education, his spokesperson confirmed.

For liberal politicians like Moore, Shapiro and Biden, promoting policies to help the more than 70 million American workers who didn’t graduate from college is partly rooted in politics, as Democrats have recently struggled to win support from non-college-educated voters, especially men. After decades of prioritizing college attendance, the Democratic Party is scrambling to figure out how to change the prevailing perception that its leaders are out of touch with the struggles of ordinary people.

But the ads we saw didn’t just come from Democrats looking to woo voters or just from elected officials. And they are not just reactions to the increasing competition of workers, though that is part of it.

These moves are the result of a concerted effort, backed by astonishing research and a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, to educate employers about the disruptive hiring practices that have unnecessarily shut out two-thirds of America’s workforce from higher-paying jobs. For decades, more and more job postings reflexively asked for university degrees. Now it is finally recognized that this was a mistake.

Why many jobs are beginning to require college degrees that weren’t the case before

The story of creeping college degree requirements began in the 1980s, as employers began hiring workers globally and automation of technology began to change the nature of many domestic jobs in America. When routine factory work began to be replaced by machines or outsourced to other countries, one consequence was a shift toward expecting workers to handle more social tasks, with so-called “soft skills” that facilitate collaboration such as conscientiousness and the ability to make small talk.

Between 1980 and 2012, jobs require high levels of social interaction by nearly 12 percentage points as a share of the American workforce, according to Harvard education researcher David Deming. And as a recruiting agent for this, companies are beginning to turn to four-year college degrees.

These trends accelerated during the Great Recession, when employers had a surplus of workers to choose from. Of the 11.6 million jobs created between 2010 and 2016, three out of four required at least a bachelor’s degree, and only one in 100 required a high school diploma or less.

These changes are documented in 2017 study Led by researchers at Harvard Business School. Their report, “Degree Rejection,” found that more than 60 percent of employers rejected candidates who qualified in terms of skills or experience simply because they did not have a college degree, and that an incomplete proxy for a bachelor’s degree had many negative consequences for workers and companies alike.

One of the researchers’ most revealing findings was that millions of job postings listed college degree requirements for jobs currently held by workers without them. For example, in 2015, 67 percent of production supervisor positions required a four-year college degree, even though only 16 percent of working production supervisors had graduated from college. Many “middle skills” jobs, such as salespeople, inspectors, truck drivers, administrative assistants and plumbers, were facing unprecedented “grade inflation”.

The report cited employer surveys that showed workers without college degrees were often seen as equally productive on the job as their counterparts with a college education. They were also less likely to be turned over and less expensive for companies to hire. The researchers noted that grade inflation was particularly detrimental to black and Hispanic job applicants, since they are less likely than white applicants to have college diplomas.

said Elise Rosenblum, co-founder Grads of Life, a nonprofit organization that supported the study and encourages companies to adopt more diverse hiring practices.

Rosenbloom’s group grew out of work begun during the Obama administration to help so-called “disengaged youth”—referring to the roughly 4 million young adults, ages 16 to 24, who were neither working nor in school. These efforts led to a 2014 Grads of Life National Advertising Campaignfollowed shortly by a national organization of the same name.

Another major player focusing on grade inflation is Opportunity @ Work, a group founded in 2015 to support an Obama White House initiative dedicated to expanding technology recruitment pipelines. In 2019, Opportunity@Work turned its full attention to helping the 70 million workers without degrees for four years. To refer to these workers, they coined the term “stars,” which is short for Skills Through Alternative Methods.

“We felt it was important to name this talent class for what it is, the Skilled Talent Pool,” explained Shad Ahmed, Group Chief Operating Officer.

Opportunity@Work has helped spark more research that is transforming the discourse. Working with Peter Blair, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in March 2020 they published their first study, “Reach for the Stars,” that found it Workers in low-paying jobs often possess skills that are in high demand by higher-paying employers. They noted that more than 5 million workers without college degrees were already in jobs that pay at least $77,000 annually, proving “that a bachelor’s degree is not the only way to acquire skills for higher wages.”

Nine months later, Opportunity @ Work Second reportand consideration of barriers to mobility among highly skilled non-degree holders, and was launched Employment database To help connect STARs with local employers.

The tightening of the labor market, the killing of George Floyd, and the pandemic have accelerated employment reform

Years before governors and the president started talking about grade inflation, some companies were already ahead of the curve. Perhaps the most well-known leader is technology conglomerate IBM, which in the Great Recession realized it needed to ease staffing requirements to remain competitive.

“They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that’s where we found ourselves about 10 years ago,” to explain Nikli Lamoureux, IBM’s chief human resources officer, pointed to the shortage of skilled technology workers, the “half-life” of technical skills, and the fact that two-thirds of adults in the United States lack bachelor’s degrees. By 2021, half of IBM jobs in the US will no longer require a college degree.

In addition to the tightening of the labor market, Ahmed said, the killing of George Floyd and the attention it has brought to structural racism in America has generated a new focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in business.

“Non-core degree requirements are not race-neutral,” Ahmed and Blair write. In The Wall Street Journal in 2020. “They embed the legacy of black exclusion from the American education system into the labor market—namely, the anti-militarist laws that made it illegal for blacks to learn to read, the segregated and unequal schools that kept them from catching up, and the limited progress since then in Policies designed to address racial discrimination.”

In December 2020, in response to Floyd’s death, business leaders Launched the OneTen Alliance with the goal of putting one million black Americans without college degrees into “family-supporting jobs” over the next decade. The high-profile effort was led by the CEO of IBM and the CEO of Merck, and included leaders from companies like Cisco, Nike, Target, and American Express. One year later, Alliance announce It has expanded to include 60 member companies. Part of their job involves identifying alternative ways of distinguishing whether workers have the skills they need.

This past September, a new chapter in this broader work of culture change began. Developed in partnership between Opportunity@Work and the Ad Council, a nonprofit that sponsors PSAs across the country, the campaign aims to “Tear off the paper ceilingwhich was launched, and focused on removing barriers for workers without college degrees. Nearly 50 national groups participated in the launch of the campaign at an event hosted by LinkedIn.

There is evidence of an “emerging degree reset”

The hard work is starting to pay off. Earlier this year, the New York Times editorial board Post a piece He praised the work of companies like IBM and governors like Josh Shapiro to expand their hiring practices to individuals without college degrees. “It is important to make college tuition affordable, but there are also other keys to doors of opportunity,” they wrote.

Last year, researchers from Harvard Business School and the Burnt Glass Institute found evidence For what they called “emergent grade reset” in employment. By analyzing more than 51 million job postings dating back to 2014, researchers found that between 2017 and 2019, approximately 46 percent of “mid-skill” occupations and 37 percent of “high-skill” occupations no longer required a bachelor’s degree, and instead From that they got job advertisements listing technical and social skills instead. The report concluded that based on the trends they were observing, an additional 1.4 million jobs could be opened for workers without college degrees in the next five years.

“The jobs don’t require four-year college degrees,” the report’s authors wrote. “Employers do.”

Convincing more employers to rethink their degree requirements will take hard work. One of the biggest barriers is just changing mindsets, said Rosenbloom, of Grass of Life. “Employers have grown up in a system where the four-year degree is the proxy and there is a perception that it is risky to do something different,” she said.

To date, there is no such comprehensive and perfect alternative assessment to identify the occupational skills that employers previously relied on a bachelor’s degree to indicate. But Rosenblum and Ahmed of Opportunity@Work say there’s a lot of work being done right now to develop these tools, such as creating micro-credentials for individual industries. Software developers exemplify an industry that has adopted new hiring practices, in part because employers have found other ways to check the quality of someone’s coding skills, making college degrees less of an issue. The challenge is figuring out how to create comparable ratings for other domains.

Ahmed said there is still a lot of work to be done to get managers to realize that stars are half of the talent pool. “Not many people know,” he said, “we are all in our own cocoons.”

New data released this month refers to employers Recruitment is taking place at a slower rateEconomists still warn of a possible recession this year as inflation persists. Advocates of hiring workers without college degrees say it is critical that employers do not go back to the same flawed recruiting agents they relied on in the wake of the last major economic downturn.

“Honestly, I have a lot of anxiety,” Rosenbloom said. “We’ve got a lot of change in our labor market, things are weakening, and we’re seeing companies freeze hiring and layoffs. We spend a lot of time talking to business leaders about the need to make sure we don’t go back to what happened in the 2008 recession.”

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