In the job market, skills are the new degrees.
Just ask the expert on how to get hired: LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky. Employers should focus on skills when making hiring decisions and deemphasize degrees and connections, he told the Harvard Business Review in a recent interview. He deems it a “skills-first mentality,” and it’s the adaptive leadership he believes bosses need right now.
In such a shaky economy and a time of growing mistrust between employees and bosses, the best, adaptive leaders constantly pivot, Roslansky explained. In the past, hiring managers didn’t have a better way of assessing talent than by where someone worked or who they knew, he continued. “But when the labor market is moving much quicker, we really need to figure out something to focus on [and] that alternative, flexible, accessible path is really going to be based on skills.”
Companies that prioritize skills over “antiquated signals” like a degree or pedigree “will help ensure that the right people can be in the right roles, with the right skills, doing the best work,” Roslansky said. “It’s going to create a much more efficient, equitable labor market, which then creates better opportunities for all.”
Enter: New collar jobs
While a college degree has long been the first rung on the corporate ladder, skills-over-degree hiring has swept some of America’s largest companies in recent years, including Google, EY, Microsoft, and Apple. Remote work has made hiring for skills-based jobs an even easier feat. When workers can log on from any country and no longer need to be in the office—nor wearing a suit and tie—the entire process is democratized.
Proponents say the shift helps remove needless barriers to workplace diversity. General Motors, for one, has removed degree requirements from job listings where they’re not fully necessary, Telva McGruder, its chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, told Fortune’s Phil Wahba. “It’s not necessarily the be-all, end-all indicator of someone’s potential.”
She’s not alone. Under former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty’s leadership, IBM coined the term “new collar jobs” for roles that require specific skills rather than specific education. The percentage of job openings at IBM requiring a four-year degree dropped from 95% in 2011 to less than half in January 2021. Rometty told Fortune CEO Alan Murray that hires without college degrees performed just as well as Ph.D. holders from top universities.
And Accenture launched an apprenticeship program aimed at funneling non-degree-holding workers into its talent pipeline in 2016. CEO Jimmy Etheredge told CNBC that the company “advanced” its focus on skills because a degree isn’t the only measure of success.
A focus on skills could be a solution to the labor shortage
By opening up more opportunities to a larger audience, a shift to skills can also be a saving grace amid a labor shortage. LinkedIn’s Roslansky cited the thousands of food service workers who were laid off early in the pandemic: The average food service worker had 70% of the necessary skills to be an entry-level customer service agent, the most in-demand role at the time. But most of them stayed unemployed, he said, and most customer service jobs went unfilled.
“If we had just taken a view on what are the skills necessary, who has those skills, how can we help them acquire a couple of skills to help them become employed, we would have found ourselves in a much more efficient labor market,” he said.
If a skills-first hiring approach does eventually become commonplace, other long-held job requirements could go extinct, University of Virginia Darden School of Business professor Sean Martin told Fortune. Anything that couldn’t be learned within a few weeks on the job, or in an apprentice program like Accenture’s, may be deemed unnecessary.
“The companies themselves miss out on people that research suggests…might be less entitled, more culturally savvy, more desirous of being there,” Martin said. Rather than pedigree, he added, motivation and eagerness to learn and adapt should be the prime attributes of a top candidate.
That’s something Roslansky can get on board with.
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