Education requirements are a big part of the hiring process, and even entry-level professional jobs tend to require a college degree these days. However, education requirements aren’t really necessary for all professional jobs, and they narrow the top of the talent funnel.
Many of the jobs that require a degree today didn’t actually require a degree in the past. In fact, many are currently filled and competently performed by employees who lack college degrees. It’s only the next generation that needs a degree to get those jobs. By listing education requirements, employers are just reducing the size of their qualified candidate pools.
Many organizations are starting to rethink their approach to education requirements in job postings, with some companies already getting rid of them for certain positions.
“It’s really important for us to recognize that because people haven’t had an opportunity early in their lives, it doesn’t mean that they can’t make a real contribution to your company,” Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck & Co., told the Wall Street Journal.
Frazier and other business leaders are calling for a change to help address inequality in employment. An inequality that tends to hit historically underrepresented groups the hardest.
“They’ve turned college from a bridge to opportunity to a drawbridge that gets pulled up if someone hasn’t gotten through,” economist Byron Auguste told NPR.
Auguste, former deputy director of the National Economic Council and current CEO of Opportunity@Work, says “college degrees have become a proxy for race and class” (in the United States, anyway).
“If you arbitrarily say that a job needs to have a bachelor’s degree, you are screening out over 70% of African Americans,” Auguste told NPR. “You’re screening out about 80% of Latino-Latina workers, and you’re screening out over 80% of rural Americans of all races. And you’re doing that before any skills are assessed. It’s not fair.”
To be sure, education requirements are an absolute must in some cases. A healthcare facility hiring a nurse, for example, can’t skip them. Anyone the facility hires will need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing as well as a license as a registered nurse.
But even when education requirements are necessary, the requirements still need to fit the job. (A nurse needs an associate’s degree, not necessarily a bachelor’s degree.) And when professional experience can make up for a degree, hiring teams can simply include ‘or relevant experience’ alongside the education requirements.
It’s important to approach college degree requirements carefully. In fact, it’s important to thoughtfully clarify all job requirements.
Including years of experience, for example, can help establish the seniority of a position. (Research suggests that listing years of experience helps clarify the role without being ageist.) But including a wide range of experience can be confusing. So, ‘2-8 years of experience’ should really just be ‘2+ years.’
Meanwhile, adding ‘preferred’ requirements of any kind, whether it’s for education, years of experience, or skills, can confuse job seekers. So, ‘bachelor’s degree with master’s preferred’ should really just be ‘bachelor’s.’
In the end, not everyone has the same opportunities for higher education. Yet there are talented, hard-working people who are willing to learn and grow all around. When it comes to job posts, it’s important to stay true to the job and list only the minimum requirements that can get a job seeker an interview. That goes for education requirements and for other requirements as well. Stick to the baseline to keep the top of the talent funnel as wide as possible.
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