For decades, companies have added degree requirements to vacancies as a screening method to obtain higher-quality candidates. Degree requirements have gradually become a necessity for not just for professions such as lawyers and teachers, but to roles such as sales reps and managers. According to a 2017 Harvard Business School study, between 2007 and 2010, job postings listing a bachelor’s degree requirement as a condition of employment rose by 10%. Over time, this has vastly reduced the pool of available talent leaving organisations and forcing them to take a new approach to hiring.
According to The Open University Business Barometer, which monitors the skills landscape of the UK, 61% of business leaders report that the skills shortage has worsened over the past year, with ‘the majority of organisations in the UK (91%) struggling to find workers with the right skills over the past 12 months.’
As a result, more and more companies are switching to skills-based hiring to prevent screening out applicants with no university education who are capable of fulfilling the requirements of the job.
Digital Skills Necessary for the Majority of Today’s Roles
Like many of the radical changes that are happening in today’s workplaces, the switch to skills-based hiring has partly been fuelled by companies responding to the pandemic. The necessity for shifting business processes online to allow companies to work remotely created a rapid acceleration of companies’ digital transformations. In turn, this created a high-demand for digitally skilled employees. Realising that candidates with degrees don’t necessarily have sought after digital skills is therefore another factor pushing the skill-based hiring trend.
Glassdoor recently published a list of 15 companies that no longer make university education a requirement for roles. Big names in tech like Google, Apple, and IBM all feature in this list.
However, global business insights company, Gartner emphasises that this doesn’t mean skills-based hiring is only for IT companies:
‘Technology skills are no longer highly centred in IT; they need to be “marbled” across organizational functions and businesses: it’s not just sales reps nor tech leaders who are affected; digital skills are now part of almost every role.’
How are UK Employers Reacting?
A recent Financial Times article stated that ‘hundreds of UK employers are planning to shift their recruitment away from graduates to school leavers, as companies seek to diversify their hiring streams in the face of skills shortages.’ According to FT research, the shift is being ‘driven by a need for more specific skills than are being provided by a graduate labour market ‘focused on “generic” university education.’ Whilst obtaining a degree demonstrates a certain level of intelligence, the ability to commitment to seeing through challenges, traditional degree curriculums often don’t give graduates the practical skills employers need.
Why Skills, not Degrees could be the Future
In a recent article entitled Why skills - not degrees - will shape the future of work, the World Economic Forum highlights why using university degrees for selection isn’t suited to the needs of today’s increasingly digital workplace: ‘Using a four-year degree as a proxy for employability means relying on talent with potentially redundant skills rather than lifelong learners with ever-relevant skills.’
Long, fixed curriculum degree courses are less suited to the upskilling needs of potential employees than shorter, non-traditional forms of learning like online courses. MOOCs (online platforms that allow for unlimited participation from students worldwide) in contrast, are more adaptable. New courses can be added quickly according to developments in technology and the needs of the employment market.
This is echoed in the findings of a recent report published by the European Commission, on the ‘Future of Non-Formal Learning’ which observes that at ‘the current high speed of development’ alternative education providers, (such as MOOCs) are better equipped to provide digital training and that, ‘in contrast, the public education system is adapting rather slowly.’
Whereas ten years ago, alternative forms of education were still viewed as somewhat inferior by both would-be trainees and employers, the image of online learning, especially since the pandemic, has drastically changed.
How Online Learning has become Credible
Online education leaders such as Coursera, LinkedIn Learning and Udemy have radically changed the perception of online courses. Being founded by Stanford professors has helped Coursera’s credibility, plus, alongside non-accredited courses it also offers approximately 4,000 courses accredited by 150 universities.
Since the start of the pandemic, the popularity of online training has rocketed. According to a recent report by CNBC Disruptor, Coursera has grown by 59% over the past two years and now valued around $2.5 billion. The rapid growth of the online learning market, as laid-off or furloughed employees used their time to upskill, attracted more similar education platforms. As a result, the online education market is predicted to grow by USD 247.46 billion from by 2024.
The rapid growth in the market certainly suggests that online training certainly seems to have the vote of confidence from those looking to upskill. However, do online courses inspire similar confidence in employers when they appear on the resumes of job applicants?
How do Employers view the Worth of Online Training?
Founded by The Open University in 2013, education platform Future Learn undertook research to evaluate the perception of online training by employers. They found that the
pandemic has radically changed employer’s openness to alternative qualifications. 62% of employers and hiring managers felt ‘the need to rethink the hiring processes of applicants with online education. 75 % of hiring managers expressed that they ‘were more likely to hire applicants with solely online education today than they were prior to 2020.’
How Candidates with Online Education are Performing
This increase in confidence in online-trained candidates is not solely due to a greater acceptance of all things digital from life during the pandemic. According to the Future Learn study, hiring managers report a variety of beneficial traits seen in employees who have developed workplace skills through online training. 60% of employers agreed that white collar workers benefit from online learning, particularly in respect to increasing employees’ ability to work independently, in using technology and being able to stay on-task. In today’s hybrid and remote work environments where employees often work without close supervision, this ability to self-motivate is crucial to companies’ success.
Evaluating the Worth of Online Courses for Hiring Managers
Whilst the experience of employers suggests that candidates who have undertaken online training offer benefits to employers, hiring managers may still find it more difficult to assess the legitimacy of online courses in comparison to degrees. When using degrees as a selection process, hiring managers could be confident that the qualification attained by a candidate at university would be of a similar quality, varying little in regard to where they studied.
The huge variety of types of course and course providers can make it more difficult for employers to decide which courses and online qualifications are valuable. Randstad’s ‘RiseSmart’, aims to offer a solution to this problem by providing ‘an authority on the certifications that really matter to hiring managers.’
Although online courses which offer certification through universities or big names such as Google or Microsoft offer employers trust, RiseSmart also explains which unaccredited courses and providers deliver training which is valuable in particular fields, such as Udemy courses in marketing or Skills share courses in HR. Tools like this help hiring managers develop their ability to evaluate candidates based on their skills and, as a result, are likely to become more common.