Dropping Degree Demands Would Help Boost U.S. Hiring, Study Says

By Olivia Rockeman

Eliminating stringent job qualifications such as college-degree requirements would ease the U.S. labor shortage and enable millions of skilled Black workers to get higher-paying jobs.

That’s the takeaway from a study showing that more than 70 million Americans are skilled through alternative routes, meaning that they only have a high-school diploma but developed advanced skills on the job or through community college and apprenticeships. They represent about half of the active labor force.

Job seekers speak with representatives at a job fair in Detroit. Photographer: Anthony Lanzilote/Bloomberg

Employers requesting college degrees for positions that these workers are qualified for are shrinking their potential talent pools, according to Byron Auguste, chief executive officer of Opportunity@Work, a nonprofit group in D.C. that published the study Thursday.

“Businesses do themselves a tremendous amount of harm by using these arbitrary bachelor’s degree requirements,” Auguste said in an interview. 

The report was presented in partnership with OneTen, a coalition of major U.S. employers that has promised to help hire and promote 1 million Black workers into higher-paying jobs over the next decade.

The study found that almost two-thirds of African-American workers are skilled but lack a college-level education, compared with 53% of White workers.

Many of those 11 million Black workers skilled through alternative routes are concentrated in occupations such as home-health aides, truck drivers, customer services and building cleaners. Nearly half have the potential to move to better-paid positions, such as managers or registered nurses, according to the report.

Big companies from International Business Machines Corp. to insurer Aon Plc, have already loosened application requirements, opening up roles to candidates without four-year degrees who had previously been invisible to managers.

Auguste said he hopes more will follow suit. 

“If you stop people from working at their best level, there are a lot of problems that are going to go unsolved. and I think that’s the situation we’re in right now,” Auguste said. “We need all the talents to solve the problems we have ahead of us, both private and public, but we’re not getting all the talents yet.”

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com.

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