Hear from Grads of Life’s Lara Bach on what it takes to successfully remove degree requirements for skills-based hiring.
This past year, there has been a loud call to action for and by companies to reimagine hiring processes to focus on skills versus pedigree. Specifically, Business Round Table and OneTen—both large coalitions comprised of America’s largest employers—committed to broadening their candidate pools by evaluating their open roles and removing degree requirements where possible.
When you look at the math, this makes good sense. Among those aged 25 and older living in the United States, only 36% hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. By requiring a degree, employers effectively disqualify 64% of the population. When you break this down by race, accessibility further decreases by disqualifying 73.7% of Black, 82.2% Hispanic/LatinX, 71.9% Pacific Islander, and 83.2% American Indian/Alaskan Native identifying individuals. The problem is exacerbated by degree inflation, defined as rising demand for 4-year college degrees for jobs that previously did not require one.
But when it comes to companies removing degree requirements and adopting more equitable and inclusive hiring practices, what will it take? Here are three things for employers to keep in mind:
1) Buy-in and alignment are key for getting anything off the ground.
Removing degree requirements and hiring non-baccalaureate talent is a collective, company-wide effort. It is imperative that all stakeholders are aligned and rowing in the same direction, starting at the top with an executive sponsor’s commitment to intentionally source and hire talent without degrees. From there, hiring managers, talent acquisition, interview panels, legal, immigration, finance, and staff learning teams must collectively build equitable and inclusive systems tackling questions such as:
- What is our hiring philosophy?
- What are the necessary versus preferred skills required for this role? Are they the focus of the job description?
- What are the consistent, skills-based interview questions the hiring team will ask candidates?
- What does it mean for a candidate to add to our company culture, versus fit into our status quo?
- How are we equitably compensating talent with comparable skillsets?
- Are we providing equitable access to on-the-job and formal training experiences to help our existing talent find success and advance within our organization?
- How can we collectively remove and address our individual biases at each step?
Answering these questions is no small task and might even result in rebuilding your company’s entire hiring and onboarding processes. For sustainable change, think about starting small within a function or team.
2) Uncovering potential impact to H1B visa holding talent is necessary.
If your company currently employs visa holding talent, you will want to partner closely with legal to ensure removing degree requirements from job descriptions does not negatively impact your current employees. Each year the United States issues up to 85,000 first-time H1B visas, which are granted to individuals who help fill “specialty occupations” where the role requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. What this means in practice is that employers must prove to the Department of Labor that U.S. citizens are being held to the same standard; i.e. also required to hold a bachelor’s degree to fill that same position. When taking steps to remove bachelor’s degree requirements, companies can put into jeopardy H1B visa holding employees in impacted roles as removing the degree eliminates H1B applicant eligibility, requiring them to be released from their position—if not the organization.
Before removing any or all bachelor’s degree requirements, have intentional conversations across business units about what roles truly require credentials and which do not. Cross-check these with your current employee base in close partnership with your legal counsel, and potentially immigration lawyers, to ensure you are not unintentionally negatively impacting current H1B visa holding employees.
3) Removing degrees for entry-level hiring is only the beginning.
Just as important as removing degree requirements is building strategies to support talent advancement.
It’s great to hire non-baccalaureate talent into entry-level roles. That same talent, however, should not face barriers as they look to advance 12 – 18 months post hire. We at Grads of Life have heard companies ask: if we hired a candidate without a degree, are we obligated to remove degree requirements for all promotions? I would argue the answer is yes, given the candidate has demonstrated all skills and competencies required to succeed in the new role.
Research from the Center for Creative Leadership has shown that professional development occurs 70% on the job, 20% from other people, and 10% from coursework and training. If the majority of development happens on the job, companies should not over-index degree completion as the source of skill attainment. When removing degree requirements from roles, consider how you might leverage internal skills building resources and on-the-job experiences that ensure promotions are tied to skills attainment over time, versus requiring talent to leave and earn a degree before being eligible for promotion.
This can be done by reevaluating your job descriptions and promotion criteria to be fully skills-based and intentionally connecting your non-baccalaureate talent to internal skills-building experiences. In this way, if one person with and one person without a degree are performing at the same level and both demonstrate adequate skill acquisition as defined by the criteria, then both should be equally eligible for promotion and advancement, including equitable pay increase.
Removing requirements is a powerful change companies can make to help advance economic and racial equity in the United States. Like any important shifting of norms, it is a complex undertaking that requires thoughtfulness, intentionality, and time. We at Grads of Life are excited to see this practice becoming a norm and look forward to helping more companies make the change.
This blog post originally appeared on Grads of Life BrandVoice on Forbes here.