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Opinion: Skilled workers shouldn’t miss out on good-paying jobs simply because they don’t have a bachelor’s degree


A critical way employers can address hiring shortages and broaden the pool of candidates for open roles is by eliminating the bachelor’s degree as a minimum hiring requirement, and instead accepting candidates with alternative credentials that in fact may be more applicable to the job.

Increasingly, short-term certificate programs are part of both traditional and non-traditional institutions of higher education. In many ways, higher education is responding to skills gaps in the labor market. When someone attains a credential that translates to a job opportunity, they should have a seamless path to getting hired. Job sites including GlassdoorIndeed, and Monster could support both job-seekers and employers by noting workforce-relevant certificates among the list of preferred qualifications, rather than eliminating potential candidates by keeping a bachelor’s degree the minimum qualification.

Employers may be automatically eliminating those with non-degree credentials

With the rise of bootcamps, badges, industry certifications, and micro-credentials, one in five working-age adults in the U.S. report having a non-degree credential as their highest level of education. Such short-term programs are often more flexible, affordable and accessible to working individuals in particular.

Employers must recognize these credentials as valuable to the job. One issue is that almost half of U.S. employers report using an automated prescreening process and only one-third of these employers’ systems recognize alternative credentials (SHRM). Therefore, those without traditionally recognized degrees are automatically removed from the hiring pipeline, even though they may have a credential that is specific to the job for which they are applying.

The larger issue is that there are so many credentials available in today’s marketplace that they are difficult to evaluate and HR professionals have a difficult time determining which skills a candidate has attained based on their alternative credential.

It’s true — there are seemingly infinite alternative credentials and just as many providers. Yet the variation in skills attained in a bachelor’s degree program is just as vast. Still, a candidate with a bachelor’s degree is consistently preferable to hiring managers than a candidate with an alternative credential. Employers must work with education providers to align learning outcomes with in-demand skills—doing so not only allows an individual to understand exactly how their education program will translate to their future work, it also minimizes the on-the-job training an employer must provide and accelerates a new hire’s ability to learn and do their job well.

Employers must broaden their hiring qualifications and adjust their interview processes to better evaluate a candidate’s skillset, rather than defaulting to a preference for a bachelor’s degree — a model that inherently disregards candidates who have chosen a different postsecondary path. Adding workforce-relevant certificates to the list of minimum qualifications immediately diversifies the applicant pool to include those with different, yet still valuable credentials.

Technology is one area where an alternative credential is a component of the hiring process. Some large employers, such as Liberty Mutual Insurance, have created coding bootcamps to fulfill their hiring needs for developers. Others have partnered with higher-education institutions to create short-term intensive bootcamps that result in a certification and, in turn, a minimum qualification for a job with the partnered employer.

Through each of these methods, employers have an automatic way to verify credentials and, presumably, have a baseline knowledge for comparing other credentials that are equivalent to their in-house or partnered programs. By doing so, tech companies are proving what all companies should understand: Qualified job candidates may not have a degree, but their credentials have prepared them to do their job well.

Donald C. Kilburn is the CEO for the University of Massachusetts Online. He is also a member of the board of regents of UMass Global, a private, non-profit affiliate of the University of Massachusetts based in Irvine, Calif.

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