Employers continue to loosen the reigns on requiring a college degree for entry-level positions — focusing instead on applicants’ skills — as they struggle to find enough workers for open jobs, according to an annual report on employability by Cengage Group.
Only half of 1,000 employers surveyed now require a two- or four-year degree for entry-level jobs, down from 62% in 2022, the report says. Healthcare, manufacturing and technology are among top industries that have seen a significant shift over the last year in the percentage of non-degree jobs (See graph, below). In addition, 61% of participating employers reported seeing an increase in non-degree applicants.
In fact, the annual survey finds that fewer employers this year said a college degree is most important when considering a candidate for an entry role, down from 26% in 2022. Employers reported that they value skills training credentials (39%) and real-world experience (35%) more. The percentage of employers who said they are more willing to interview candidates with experience but no degree bumped up to 66% in 2023, compared to 53% last year.
The report also observes that a growing number of states (Maryland, Colorado, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and others) are ditching the degree requirement for starting positions, a trend that started in 2020 with the federal government’s move into skills-based hiring for many federal jobs.
What grads say
Cengage also polled 1,000 postsecondary education graduates — men and women ages 18 to 65 who have completed an associate, bachelor’s or graduate degree or vocation training or certification — to gauge their views on job hirings. It found a growing percentage were critical of their higher education preparation. Although college graduates indicated the loosening of degree requirements made them feel more confident and qualified to apply for entry-level jobs, many of them also don’t feel their higher education prepared them well for work. Only 41% of graduates said their program taught them the skills needed for their first job, down from 63% in 2022.
In addition, Fewer graduates also reported having internships, externships and apprenticeships in 2023 (down to 47% from 63%), which are often central if providing worked-based learning experiences. More than one-third (35%) noted that they found the work experience themselves.
The report observes that both employers and graduates are closely watching the potential effects of artificial intelligence on the workforce. More than half (52%) of graduates say the growth of AI makes them question how prepared they are for work. Some recent graduates are second-guessing their career choice and are mulling whether to get AI-related skills training or certification, it says.
AI discussions are also prompting employers to think how the technology may alter the skills they seek in employees — or if they need certain employees at all. More than half (57%) of participating employers say certain entry-level jobs — or even entire teams — could be replaced by AI. And two-thirds (66%) of employers say they are looking for “uniquely human” skills and noting that previous job experience will become more important in hiring decisions.