"Three seemingly innocuous words" are barring millions of Americans from good jobs they're fully capable of doing: "bachelor's degree required," Bryon Auguste, CEO of Opportunity@Work and a former deputy director of the National Economic Council, writes in a Washington Post opinion piece.
Auguste shares how, 50 years ago, his father—who did not have a bachelor's degree—was able to secure a well-paying job as a junior computer programmer after shadowing another worker at the company and showing management that he had the skills necessary to do the work.
Nowadays, however, workers like Auguste's father are unlikely to have the same opportunity. Auguste explains that almost 75% of new jobs between 2007 and 2016 were positions where employers typically require applicants have bachelor's degrees—even though less than two-thirds of U.S. workers have such a degree.
And this "damage falls hardest" on Black, Latino, and rural workers, Auguste writes. Almost 70% of African American workers and nearly 80% of Latino workers currently lack bachelor's degrees, as do more than 70% of all rural workers.
According to Auguste, while screening out applicants by whether they have a degree is not illegal, it is a "damaging bias" that leads to companies overlooking potentially talented workers and reinforces existing economic inequalities. And it is particularly detrimental for midmarket and small businesses, which may otherwise struggle to find workers, he adds.
While some people may argue that a bachelor's degree represents important cognitive skills, Auguste writes that college is not the only way people can learn or gain skills. More than 70 million workers in the United States do not have bachelor's degrees but are "skilled through alternative routes" (STARs). These STARs, according to Auguste, include people who have acquired skills through military training, certificate programs, community college, or simply by learning on the job.
In fact, according to Auguste, STARs already make up an important part of the workforce: two-thirds of essential workers during the current pandemic are STARs. And by focusing solely on workers with higher education, employers are creating a "skills gap" out of what is actually an "opportunity gap" in disguise.
Auguste argues that smart employers are working to change their hiring practices to focus on relevant skills instead of how those skills are gained. For instance, IBM's New Collar job program got rid of degree requirements and is instead focusing on skills. In addition, Ryan Roslansky, LinkedIn's CEO, recently said that the company would test skills-based tools to create more accessible paths for high-paying jobs for workers without degrees.
"Let's hope the exclusionary, degree-based hiring is destined for the ash heap of history," Auguste writes. "Employers played a leading role in building it, but they can also lead in dismantling and replacing it." (Auguste, Washington Post, 7/20)
By Kate Vonderhaar, Managing Director
This Washington Post piece highlights an important consideration for employers in America, many of whom unknowingly miss out on strong talent due to "degree discrimination." This exclusionary act spans the entire workforce, and the health care industry is no exception. How should you change your approach as an employer?
There are obviously many health care roles that require advanced training and education—but there are many critical roles that don’t. In fact, some of the most in-demand health care roles don't require a bachelor's degree, such as home health aides and medical assistants. According to the Labor Department, health care employment is projected to grow by about 15% between 2019 and 2029, four times the expected rate for jobs overall.
There is serious opportunity for health care employers to tap into the population of U.S. workers who don’t have a bachelor's degree, which amounts to about two-thirds of all workers. To keep up with the projected demand for health care workers, you need to ensure your hiring process catches all available talent. Follow these four steps to help.
Look at your job descriptions, especially those for entry-level roles, and ask: does this role really require a bachelor’s degree? Or would an associate’s degree be sufficient? Or a high school education?
In our research, we highlighted an academic health system that recognized they were missing an opportunity to recruit high-performing high school graduates who did not enter directly into college. The HR team conducted a thorough review of job descriptions and identified ten roles that could be filled with high school graduates not planning to go to college, including: certified nursing assistant, surgical technician, and administrative positions. The organization changed the level of experience required for these roles, opening the door for high school graduates to apply.
Well-intentioned hiring teams can inadvertently overlook great talent due to unconscious bias. One of the best ways to reduce bias is standardizing the interview process. Create interview guides with consistent questions and specific criteria for all hiring managers to use when evaluating candidates, especially when considering so-called soft skills like communication and customer service.
Hiring teams often rely on familiar standards—one of the many reasons the four-year degree requirement is so ubiquitous. We think we know what a four-year degree entails, and it can feel harder to assess the preparation received through different educational pathways. Rather than setting these pathways aside, the solution is to lean in and learn more about them.
In fact, there’s real opportunity for health care employers to work with local schools to shape post-secondary training programs to support consistent development of in-demand skills. Give feedback to local schools about the skills and preparation needed for in-demand roles at your organization that require some post-secondary training but not a four-year degree. Feedback is especially important because training and license requirements for entry-level roles can vary by state, so there’s not necessarily a national standard to rely on.
Entry-level roles in health care often have very high turnover due to a multitude of factors, including non-competitive wages, lack of support from more tenured peers, and unclear opportunities for growth. After spending so much time and effort to recruit strong candidates, make sure you’re helping them build a long-term home within your organization. Recognize and celebrate the impact of staff in entry-level roles and provide pathways to advancement via career ladders and tuition assistance.
For more guidance on working with your community to create local health career pathways, review our findings from a task force of health care employers, educators, and workforce development groups. Wondering how your organization can become recognized as a "best place to work?" Check out our cheat sheet to understand how top organizations are chosen.
Andrew Mohama contributed to this piece
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