Employers starting to buck the trend toward valuation of college degrees over technical and on-the-job skills training

Wikipedia’s entry calls it “Credentialism and educational inflation,” and describes it as “any of a number of related processes involving increased demands for formal educational qualifications, and the devaluation of these qualifications. In Western society, China, and India, there has been increasing reliance on formal qualifications or certification for jobs. This process has, in turn, led to credential inflation (also known as credential creep, academic inflation, or degree inflation), the process of inflation of the minimum credentials required for a given job and the simultaneous devaluation of the value of diplomas and degrees. There are some occupations that used to require a high school diploma, such as construction supervisors, loan officers, insurance clerks, and executive assistants, that are increasingly requiring a bachelor’s degree.”

I have one friend who tells me that all the higher-level administrative assistants in the graduate school where she works have master’s degrees. You could peruse job sites and apps and easily find medium-level jobs — non-technical, non-scientific jobs — of all sorts which require a bachelor’s degree (doesn’t matter what your major was) that previously required only related experience and a high-school diploma.

The reasons for this are varied, but one of the big reasons has been HR people — many of them degreed themselves when they need not be — who use the possession of a bachelor’s degree as a stand-in for the ability to work hard and be productive. This is despite all evidence that having a college degree alone does not translate into increased productivity or skill in these types of jobs that do not require any special training beyond the ability to learn quickly, synthesize large amounts of administrative information, be super-organized and get along with people.

The great harm this does to society is obvious because it forces people whose earning power will never exceed a certain level to take-on all manner of debt for a college degree they did not need in order to be proficient at these jobs.

Employers, including some of the largest in America, are starting to scale back degree requirements for jobs for which experience and technical skills learned on-the-job are more important than a degree, as this WSJ article by Austen Hufford explains:

Some occupations have universal degree requirements, such as doctors and engineers, while others typically have no higher education requirements, such as retail workers. There is a middle ground, such as tech positions, that have varying degree requirements depending on the industry, company and strength of the labor market and economy.

Lucy Mathis won a scholarship to attend a women in computer science conference. There, she learned about an IT internship at Google and eventually dropped out of her computer science undergraduate program to work at the company full time. The 28-year-old now makes a six-figure sum as a systems specialist.

“I found out I had a knack for IT,” she said. “I’m not good at academics. It’s not for me.”

More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have completed Google’s online college-alternative program that offers training in fast-growing fields such as digital marketing and project management, the company said. It and 150 other companies are now using the program to hire entry-level workers.

The majority of its U.S. roles at IBM no longer require a four-year degree after the company conducted a review of hiring practices, IBM spokeswoman Ashley Bright said.

Delta eased its educational requirements for pilots at the start of this year, saying a four-year college degree was preferred but no longer required of job applicants.

Walmart Inc., the country’s largest private employer, said it values skills and knowledge gained through work experience and that 75% of its U.S. salaried store management started their careers in hourly jobs.

“We don’t require degrees for most of our jobs in the field and increasingly in the home office as well,” Kathleen McLaughlin, Walmart executive vice president, said at an online event this fall. The company’s goal is to shift the “focus from the way someone got their skills, which is the degree, to what skills do they have.”

This is a very good thing to be happening.

Many of the country’s largest employers are starting to scale back the number of jobs for which they require a college degree, choosing instead to value specific job skills training over broad-based degrees from 4-year institutions.

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