Employers are ditching the college degree requirement

The trend signals a coming shift to the job market.

By Isis Simpson-Mersha      
Hispanic businesswoman smiles while showing a document to a male associate.

The trend signals a coming shift to the job market.

The job market isn’t the same as it was before the world changed a few years ago. Beyond upending the job market and how people work, the pandemic also leveled the playing field for requirements for certain jobs.

Understanding the evolution of the job market

There are 10 million jobs available and nearly six million people are unemployed, according to recent data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Industry giants like Google, Bank of America, IBM, General Motors and Tesla are dropping the requirement for a bachelor’s degree for many middle-skill and even higher-skill roles, according to a recent study from Harvard Business Review and Emsi Burning Glass.

The study coins this trend “degree inflation reversal” and its findings suggests that such degree requirements may be around for quite a while, if not permanently.

When employers drop degrees from job postings, the study found, they tend to become more specific about the skills required. This includes spelling out the soft skills that are often assumed to come with a college education, such as writing, communication, and being detail-oriented.

Though the data from the study primarily focuses on larger companies and roles in tech, however, the trend is rippling outside those lines — and given its momentum, the trend is already starting to make a splash in comms-specific roles.

Expanding the applicant pool in comms

Software company Muck Rack is another company that has eliminated degree requirements. Currently, the company has several communications roles such as customer support specialist, director of public relations and communications manager.

“Consciously eliminating degree requirements is an important part of Muck Rack’s DEI strategy and commitment to a culture of inclusion,” Erica Raphael, vice president of people at Muck Rack said. “By looking for practical or relevant experience, potential, and soft skills, we’re able to be broader in our search for great talent and hire from a more diverse talent pool.”

Carly Mednick, COO and founder of Monday Talent, an executive search firm, specializing in recruiting for marketing, communications, and creative roles, said she’s observed this trend in industries across the board.

“Through the pandemic, there’s been a really big shift with more companies who are open to hiring people who don’t have a college degree,” Mednick said. “I think that stems from the fact that the labor market is quite tight recently, there are more jobs open than people to fill those jobs.”

She added that the companies committing to building diverse, equitable and inclusive teams must widen the traditional realms of where they recruit.

Mednick feels this is a positive trend that gives employers an opportunity to think outside the box and to see different types of options instead of the same cookie-cutter applicant.

What’s the impact?

CEO and Founder Allan Jones of Bambee, a company focused on solving HR problems for small businesses, explained how his company increasingly offers skills mapping and upskilling opportunities to its clients.

Jones, a college dropout himself, said leaving behind four-year degrees is becoming a theme for entrepreneurs and proves that people who didn’t go to college can still be successful.

“I think this trend is creating new models for how we think about recruiting generally because it’s a pattern to show that success doesn’t only just come from college degrees,” Jones said. “It’s being shown fairly loudly,” he said.

“It builds an external model for the world to see and that creates an imprint for change,” the CEO and founder said, “but it also means my views on how to recruit for talent are through the lens of my experience.”

Not only does it increase application rates in the industry, explained jones, but it also has a positive effect on internal culture.

”It brings down the barriers of confidence [for those] who may be lesser educated than some of their peers to go after the promotion that they may have hesitated to go for because they didn’t have a bachelor’s or a master’s.”

Isis Simpson-Mersha is a conference producer/ reporter for Ragan. Follow her on LinkedIn.