Do skills trump degrees? The hotly debated topic returns. Young adults are often told that tertiary education is a necessity for success in Hong Kong. But is this really true? According to a 2018 study by Ernst & Young, half the degrees obtained today will become obsolete within the next decade.
In fact, it’s becoming increasingly common to find a majority of degree holders working in jobs that have no relevance to their degrees. Companies such as Penguin Random House, GE Digital and IBM have already eliminated degree requirements for some of their previously degree-only positions.
In today’s constantly-evolving economy where change is a constant, is a degree as essential as it once was? And as an employer, should you consider changing the requirements on some of your degree holders-only positions?
Removing degree requirements allows you to tap a larger, more diverse group
We’re not saying that degrees aren’t important. However, you may find that removing this requirement could help you find an even wider range of passionate and suitable candidates.
After all, every successful professional knows that a tertiary education simply gives you a head start in a job – while corporate training, on-the-job learning and personal development are the essential tools that transform good employees, into great ones.
Take, for example, LinkedIn’s apprenticeship programme, REACH. The programme allows candidates without technical backgrounds to receive on-the-job training for engineering-related positions. The programme which took place in early 2017 featured very promising results – with 83% of the 29 candidates being awarded jobs in the company’s engineering department.
Other examples include IBM, a multinational information technology, searches for new talent by hiring candidates from non-traditional backgrounds. Despite having no degree, candidates who have built their skills through coding camps, community colleges, or through prior training with past workplaces. Despite hiring candidates for highly skilled positions, IBM believes that hiring people for new collared jobs (i.e. data science, cloud computing, and cybersecurity) do not require the traditional four-degree. Reports state that around 15% of IBM's employers do not have a college degree.
Soft skills are just as essential
When hiring potential candidates, one factor that can’t be quantified by a degree is a person’s soft skills. How good of a fit will this person be in the organization? Can they work well within your team? Do they have leadership abilities? Are they willing to take charge of projects and accept responsibility?
Companies that eliminate degree requirements will also have a wider range of suitable candidates to choose from – increasing their opportunities for finding candidates that have both the aptitude and attitude to make significant contributions to the company.
Elitist attitudes turn away promising talents
Often, companies that hire based on educational qualifications tend to suffer from some degree of elitism, where employees are ranked according to their certifications. And even among degree holders, employees are classified according to the University their degree came from (and the “class” of their degree).
This could be tough for those based in Hong Kong due to the competitive mindset of our society. To most of us, top grades equal top brains. But thinking this way can have far-reaching consequences for employees, as the best employees may be stuck in their positions, held back only by a glass ceiling that’s reserved for someone with a higher qualification than themselves. Not surprisingly, companies like these often lose their most passionate and capable talents – while retaining those who receive more recognition simply for a certificate that they earned over a decade ago.
Will you be revisiting your company’s hiring policies?
When it comes to eliminating degree requirements in the workplace, in most cases, the pros outweigh the cons. You’ll have a much wider range of candidates to choose from – which means that you can choose candidates with the most potential, and the right attitude to do whatever it takes to excel in their roles - whether or not a degree says they can.
Unless you're planning on hiring someone for a specialized position such as law or accounting, it makes little sense include degree requirements in an era that has low unemployment rates and a wide skills gap.
Are you still hesitant to hire a non-degree holder? We'll leave you with a few choice words, in the professional world, not everyone you know will own a degree and some of us will do better than others.
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