Employers’ Confusion: Wanting Skills, They Ask for Degrees
Paths that can take the non-degree holder to better jobs
Are you one of the 41 million non-degree holders in this country who has the skills to do higher-paying work? If you don’t yet have such a job, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that, in many instances when you’ve identified an opening that seems right for your skills, you can’t even get beyond an initial online application (“All fields must be completed.”) without listing the college degree you don’t have.
If you are one of these people, here are five ways to make the leap without logging four years on an alcohol-sloshed undergraduate campus.
“You often hear employers or policymakers say, ‘We have a skills gap, we need lots more skills for the jobs,’” says Byron Auguste, CEO of nonprofit [email protected], which aims to connect non-degree holders with the jobs that match their skill sets. “And sometimes they skip very quickly to, ‘We don’t have enough college graduates.’ Until a minute ago, they were talking about skills, and now they’re talking about college degrees.”
Auguste is one of a handful of experts trying to remedy this situation, presenting overwhelming evidence of skill abundance to break through employer credentialism. It’s an uphill fight, with companies clinging to hierarchies that worked in prior eras. While they get their heads together — it’s going to take some years — here are some suggestions for end-running the problem:
Community college. Go here for jobs requiring specific expertise, such as CAD design or IT help desk, or fields with well-defined certifications and career paths, such as paralegal, law enforcement or health (nursing, dentistry, etc). Also, some community colleges have deals with local employers to train specifically for their needs. Ask about such opportunities.
Nonprofits that upskill workers like you. Be wary of the many companies and universities hawking professional training. You want to see a proven track record of students just like you connected with high-paying jobs, not student debt. One example is Merit America, which provides flexible technology training geared toward workers who might not have time or money for traditional programs. Apprenticeship programs, such as Chicago Apprenticeship Network and Consumer Technology Association’s Apprenticeship Coalition, also have sky-high employment rates after completing the programs. [email protected] is full of resources.
On-ramping programs. You want a program that connects you with a network of employers after a chance to show and improve your skills. These organizations tend to be local, industry-specific, and broadly aimed at getting you in the door. Examples include Silicon Valley Academy, which runs career coaching and an 18-hour Tech Jobs 101-type training, and St. Louis’ Launch Code, which offers both a semester-long (20 hours per week) program and an apprenticeship called Lift Off. Do your research, and opt for free or almost free. “I would be reluctant to take on a bunch of debt if it’s not a pathway to a job,” Auguste says.
Recruiters. Contact them directly, and explain why you’d be a standout at certain jobs. No need to be nervous: Employers desperately need high-performing, skilled workers, and that’s you. You might need to do a bit of explaining. “It’s an information problem,” Auguste says. “The goal is to have the human resources people ask the question, ‘Gee, we put down on our recruiting system that we do require a college degree for this advertising sales agent, but maybe we don’t actually need to require that.’ ”
Keep in mind that the person you’re talking to likely holds a college degree, so delicately remind them that the goal is to hire a high-performing employee, not someone with a certain GPA or degree (neither of which particularly correlate with job success). Employers generally care less about college histories five to 10 years after college anyway, so you might as well apply that logic here.
Work for a big company that subsidizes training. Twenty or 30 years ago, workers commonly stayed on for lengthy careers, and most sizable companies trained their own staffers from mailroom to c-suite. This in-house extensive training has gone the way of the rotary phone, but a few large companies offer valuable subsidized education options, like Walmart’s Live Better U initiative, which gives employees access to a variety of courses and credits. Prioritize your education: Get your credits, then get out and make the leap.
Yes, this is all a project. “Many of the workarounds are an extra burden,” Auguste says.
“If we want to be a real land of opportunity, we have to offer multiple paths,” says economist Erica Groshen, former commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, who is now a senior economics advisor at Cornell University. “It shouldn’t be that everybody has to get a four-year degree to thrive. There are an awful lot of people out there who have developed a lot of skills on the job.”