As employers increasingly embrace removing four-year degrees, it is imperative that their skills-based hiring efforts are grounded in a holistic DEI strategy.
We are witnessing a turning point.
Over the past five years, employers have begun rethinking their hiring practices and putting skills first.
This trend has been a strong validation of our work at Grads of Life. Our 2017 report, “Dismissed by Degrees,” revealed that degree inflation in middle-skills roles hurt workers and companies alike. It demonstrated how focusing on core competencies over four-year degrees could expand talent pools and realize greater economic and racial equity.
New research from Harvard and the Burning Glass Institute suggests that many companies took note and are rethinking degree requirements across the private sector. Drawing on an analysis of more than 51 million job posts, authors of “The Emerging Degree Reset” determined that nearly half of middle-skills roles and more than one-third of high-skills jobs were subject to degree resets between 2017 and 2019. If these trends hold, an additional 1.4 million jobs could open to non-degreed talent over the next five years.
With so much momentum around removing degree requirements, we must bear in mind that skills-based hiring cannot be divorced from diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work. When you understand how degree-based hiring has barred more than 60% of Americans from access to stepping-stone jobs and upward economic mobility, and disproportionately diverted Black and Latinx people into stagnant, low-wage roles, this becomes clear.
Through our 1:1 work consulting with employers and coalitions such as OneTen, the Business Roundtable and the Markle Foundation’s Rework America Alliance, we know that organizations on the leading edge of skills-based hiring have a CEO-led strategy that has DEI at the center.
While our joint research with Bain into proven DEI tactics offers a helpful blueprint, DEI progress is about more than executing a list of steps. It is about creating structural supports to facilitate those steps and build a culture of inclusion to effectively hire, retain and advance underrepresented talent – in this case, workers without degrees.
Executive buy-in is an integral part of those structural supports. Consider IBM and Accenture. In a sector that shows marked variation in degree requirements, these companies stood out in the report for having the most significant degree removal. It is no coincidence that they also have robust C-suite support for their DEI strategy, even tying it to their broader strategic goals.
Shifting mindsets from the top down is also critical to building the conditions necessary for a skills-first approach. Myths continue to hinder skills-based hiring efforts, and many businesses face a significant degree of pedigree bias that makes cultural change difficult.
Companies looking to implement skills-based hiring can accelerate change by investing in manager training on skills-based hiring and mitigating bias among employees. For example, incumbent employees may think degree removal is lowering the bar for prospective candidates. In reality, as this recent report shows, it forces employers to get clear about the skills they value and the capabilities their positions require. It also offers the dual benefit of keeping the door open for candidates whose expertise was built through training programs and on-the-job experiences, outside of a collegiate setting. By integrating this messaging into their change management plans, employers give practice changes the meaningful context they deserve and invite employees to be equal stakeholders in the mission to advance a more equitable, skills-based approach.
Driving true equity will require integrating skills-based hiring at scale with a thoughtful DEI strategy. By rallying executive leadership, resources and employees around a shared understanding of the justice and business imperative, companies can cultivate the solidarity and intrinsic motivation necessary to take skills-based hiring mainstream.