Employers begin to value skills over college degrees

Companies with entry-level positions in need of workers are no longer requiring employees to have a college degree. During the pandemic, employers began to question the value of higher education.

The gap between available positions and those seeking new jobs has grown, CNBC reported. According to Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, in 2022, there were 11.27 million job openings, and a total of 6.27 million people counted as unemployed, leaving a record 5 million more openings than available workers. 

Associate Vice President for Communications Kimberly Ott said continuing education is not for everyone.

“Education is not one size fits all as it relates to the workforce,” Ott said. “Not every job requires a formal degree and there are multiple pathways to meeting qualifications for employers today.”

According to AP News, ZipRecruiter reported the percentage of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree fell from 15% in 2016 to just over 11% in 2020. In 2021 the percentage dropped to under 7%. For job listings that require no experience, the figure went from roughly 9.2% in 2016 to 14.3% in 2020 and increased to 18.6% in 2021.

“The new economy that Arizona is so effectively building disproportionately requires that our future workforce have some form of postsecondary credential,” Ott said. “And today, we are facing an annual shortage of more than 26,000 Bachelor’s degrees needed to fuel those jobs. Research suggests that only 17% of current ninth graders in Arizona are expected to earn a Bachelor’s degree by 2029. These outcomes are even lower for historically underrepresented groups in the state.”

Public and private sector employers are now changing their standards, broadening the meaning of "qualified" to include life experience, job history or certifications that don't require a degree.

John Gartin, the Director of the NAU Career Development Center, said enrollment levels have not decreased and in Fall 2022, NAU had its biggest freshmen class. 

“I think that when students apply to those jobs, and when they graduate, they have a degree in hand, I think that actually helps them because it points to something that has been earned and allows them to be seen as more competitive for those goals,” Gartin said. “I think the key is meeting the skills that the employer is asking for, or their minimum qualifications.”

Udemy for Business is a program provided by the Career Development Center to assist students in gaining skill sets employers are looking for. 

“Honestly, I think anybody in any college or any program would probably find resources in Udemy that would help supplement their career,” Gartin said. “In addition to that, I would encourage the students to review what skills they have learned in their courses, but also what skills have they learned in their co-curricular activities.”

Harvard Business Review released The Emerging Degree Reset report in 2022, which concluded many employers value skills over scholastic diplomas. 

Technical skills are mostly discovered through pre-employment tests, certifications and work history. Despite companies not focusing on degrees, the report suggests college graduates possess better-developed soft skills employers are looking for, such as talents for teamwork, effective communication and prioritizing tasks.

“I want all students freshman through senior and into grad school and our alumni, to look for their career resources, and the career events and to engage those, even though it might feel uncomfortable, or maybe even feels a little scary,” Gartin said. “They're gonna find out the moment that they go to the career fair, that they go to the Career Development Office, that they engage our resources on Udemy for Business, etc, that it's like, ‘Oh, wow. There's a lot here to help me. And I've got a lot of people on my team.’”

Students can log in to Handshake to search for jobs within Flagstaff and NAU campus, sign up for career fairs and set up appointments with Career Development advisors.

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