As a middle school student in New York, Shekinah Griffith saw a television report about President Barack Obama visiting an innovative school in Brooklyn. His curriculum included high school, an associate’s degree in a technical subject, an internship, and the promise of a good job.
“I thought, ‘This is a place to be,’” Ms. Griffith recalls. “There aren’t many opportunities like that for people like me.”
She applied, was accepted, and thrived in the classes. After studying, an 18-month internship and apprenticeship, she became a full-time employee at IBM in late 2020. Today, Ms. Griffith, 21, is a cybersecurity technical specialist and earns more than $100,000 a year.
In recent years, major American companies across industries have pledged to change their hiring habits by opening the door to better-paying jobs with career paths to people without a four-year college degree, like Ms. Griffith. More than 100 companies have made pledges, including the Business Roundtable’s Multiple Pathways program and OneTen, which focuses on hiring and promoting black workers without college degrees to good jobs.
How have American companies fared so far? There has been a gradual change overall, according to a recent report and additional data provided by the Burning Glass Institute. But the research group’s company-by-company analysis highlights both the potential and the challenge of changing entrenched hiring practices.
The Burning Glass Institute is an independent, not-for-profit research center, using data from Emsi Burning Glass, a labor market analysis company. Researchers analyzed millions of online job postings, looking for four-year college degree requirements and trends. In 2017, 51% required the diploma. By 2021, this share had fallen to 44%.
Labor experts see removing the four-year college degree filter for some jobs as key to increasing diversity and reducing inequality. Workers, they say, should be selected and promoted on the basis of their skills and experience rather than their degrees or educational background. And companies that change their hiring practices, they add, benefit from tapping previously overlooked talent pools in a tight labor market, as well as diversifying their workforces.
Nearly two-thirds of American workers don’t have a four-year college degree. Screening by college degree hits minorities especially hard, screening out 76% of black adults and 83% of Latino adults.
Companies that reduced credential requirements generally started doing so before the pandemic, according to Burning Glass analysis. Nonprofit groups like Opportunity@Work, founded in 2015, and the Markle Foundation’s Skillful program, launched in 2016, were pushing companies to embrace skills-based recruiting.
But pandemic labor shortages and calls for corporate America to address racial discrimination after the killing of George Floyd two years ago have prompted more companies to rethink hiring. Experts say an aging workforce, changing demographics, barriers to immigration and diversity, equity and inclusion programs are forcing change.
“Things are falling into place that we really haven’t seen before,” said Joseph Fuller, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of the Burning Glass report, released in February.
The Burning Glass research points to a “real and sustained” trend, said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., executive director of the Society for Human Resource Management. “Employers don’t have the luxury of excluding talent. They need to be more inclusive of necessity.
While the mention of a “college degree” in a job ad isn’t a real hire, labor experts say it’s an important signal of companies’ hiring behavior.
“For diversity goals, the biggest lever you can take is to eliminate the four-year degree filter,” said Elyse Rosenblum, chief executive of Grads of Life, which advises companies on hiring practices. inclusive.
There are judgment calls in Burning Glass research. For example, companies may list the qualification required for a job as “bachelor’s degree or equivalent practical experience”. Still, such wording suggests a bias toward a college degree, the researchers concluded.
A detailed analysis of companies in the same industry revealed considerable differences in degree requirements for entry-level jobs that tend to be stepping stones to higher-paying roles and upward mobility career paths. Many are technical occupations, such as IT support specialist, software developer, and software quality assurance engineer.
Successful training programs for the disadvantaged, such as Year Up and Per Scholas, have focused on tech jobs because demand is high and skills can be demonstrated through coding tests or industry-recognized certificates.
Dropping the college degree qualification for jobs requires work. The skills required for a job need to be explained more clearly and recruiters need to be trained. Institutional habits, labor experts note, run deep. Companies instinctively seek not only college graduates, but also those from a handful of favorite schools.
“It’s still a hand-to-hand fight at the enterprise level,” said Matt Sigelman, president of the Burning Glass Institute and co-author of the report.
In the company’s data, some employers who have championed skills-based hiring and generously supported upward mobility programs still have generally high levels of four-year degree requirements in their hiring.
Microsoft, for example, is a major financial backer of Markle’s Skillful program and a member of the Rework America Business Network, a group of companies committed to moving toward skills-based hiring. Microsoft and its subsidiary LinkedIn have offered free online courses during the pandemic to millions of people.
But in Burning Glass’ analysis, Microsoft required a degree for 54% of its IT support job postings, compared to a national average of 24%. For its software quality assurance jobs, 87% required a college degree compared to a national average of 54%. Microsoft required a college degree in 70% of its total job postings in 2021, according to Burning Glass.
Lauren Gardner, vice president of global talent acquisition for Microsoft, declined to comment on Burning Glass’ analysis except to say that many of the company’s listings specify a college degree or equivalent experience.
“We look to the skills candidates have rather than how they acquired them,” Ms. Gardner said. “We are absolutely committed to expanding our openings for employment. But it is a journey.
Google offers its popular skills courses for free to nonprofits and community colleges and in February announced a $100 million fund to expand training and job search programs targeted at low-income workers, usually without a four-year college degree. Google, according to Burning Glass, has made real progress in reducing college degree requirements, dropping from 89% of jobs in 2017 to 72% in 2021 – although that level is still high.
Google job postings usually list ‘bachelor’s degree’ first as a qualification, sometimes followed by other requirements, such as engineering or finance, and almost always end with the phrase ‘or equivalent practical experience’.
In a statement, Brendan Castle, vice president of recruiting at Google, said: “We focus on demonstrated skills, and that can be through degrees or relevant experience.”
In the tech industry, workforce experts point to Accenture and IBM as companies whose efforts to recruit people without a four-year degree started as corporate responsibility projects that eventually became pipelines of talent. most common hires.
This experience, they say, has influenced how companies describe job requirements. The Burning Glass analysis found that IBM and Accenture require college degrees in less than half of their job postings.
Danica Lohja came to America from Serbia in 2011 with $400 and hopes for a better future. She started working as a waitress at a country club, but technology seemed to be where the good jobs were. So she earned an associate’s degree in computer information systems from a community college in Chicago.
Ms. Lohja heard about a one-year apprenticeship program offered by Accenture. The company hired her in 2017 and promoted her three times. She is now an associate director in the Accenture unit that negotiates contracts and manages hardware and software vendors for the large technology services company.
Ms Lohja declined to say how much she earned. According to job search site Indeed, associate managers at Accenture earn more than $110,000 a year. Ms. Lohja, 35, is married to a software engineer for an insurance company. They own a house in Chicago, send their two young sons to private school and go on vacation to Aruba in April.
“I think we’re living the American dream,” she said.