No Degree? No Problem. More And More Employers Are Hungry For Your Skills Instead

Posted July 12, 2021 by Mark Perna

As the employment landscape shifts, companies are beginning to hire for the needs of the future—not of the past. Mark’s article, “No Degree? No Problem. More And More Employers Are Hungry For Your Skills Instead,” published at on July 6, 2021.

The statistics continue to paint a stark story when it comes to the hiring landscape. As of April, there were 9 million open jobs in the U.S.—an all-time record. Put simply, there are far more open jobs than available, qualified workers willing or able to fill them. And, if some forecasts are accurate, that labor shortage could expand over the next decade, totaling some 85 million people by 2030.

With businesses clamoring for people in our post-pandemic world, HR and hiring managers are feeling the pressure to fill those open spots. It’s all too common for these hiring pros to report that the candidates applying for those jobs don’t meet the job description requirements. But the language of these job postings might be working against them.

While the common perception is that we are facing an insurmountable “skills gap” where there simply aren’t enough qualified workers out there, the real reason might be more nuanced. What if employers are screening for the wrong qualifications?

“For far too long hiring has been based on your last job, degree, or who you know,” says Jennifer Shappley, Head of Global Talent Acquisition at LinkedIn. “Today, we’re seeing that more and more companies are looking for relevant skills, and this thinking is very quickly expanding the pools of available talent.”

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Beyond the degree

Shappley makes it clear that the four-year degree isn’t going away. “As with all high-quality credentials, degrees will continue to play a role in signaling the skills and experience that job seekers possess,” she says. But for employers looking to hire talented employees, it’s time to move away from hiring solely based on titles, degrees and schools to more of a focus on skills and abilities.

The skills-based hiring philosophy is simple. An individual’s abilities—whether they’re gained while earning a college degree, taking an online course or serving in an apprenticeship—have the greatest weight in the hiring decision. It’s the skills that matter, not how or where they were attained. “We need alternative, flexible and always-accessible paths to well-paying jobs,” Shappley says.

Shappley points to the fact that there are currently 3.3 million open jobs in the U.S. that don’t require a four-year degree—an increase of nearly 40% in 2020 compared to 2019. Things are shifting—and it’s about time.

Making the shift

In making the switch to a more skills-based hiring approach, Shappley says that employers need to consider both short- and long-term strategies.

In the near term, she suggests that employers can encourage more skilled candidates to apply if they make changes, even subtle ones, in the job descriptions they post. For example, LinkedIn has data that shows that U.S. job posts that mention ‘responsibilities’ without mentioning ‘requirements’ received 14% more applications per view than those jobs that prioritize ‘requirements.’ Doing this flips the script and encourages applicants who believe they can deliver the results the employer wants, as opposed to just fitting a set of requirements an employer thinks the prospective employee might need.

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Using a longer lens, those employers interested in creating an ongoing talent pipeline need to think about partnering with schools, governments and other companies to help transition the hiring market to focus on skills and abilities. “We’re in the beginning stages and it won’t change overnight,” says Shappley, “but we are excited to help solve this challenge.”

Advice for the up-and-coming workforce

Similarly, new graduates from high school and college should prepare themselves for this shift in the hiring market as well. “What’s most important today is that new graduates have the right skills to do the job,” says Shappley, who points out that LinkedIn has launched several online tools and assessments to help candidates get noticed for their skills. In addition to hard skills like computer programming or welding, young people should be ready to demonstrate an aptitude in soft/professional skills such as time management, project management and customer service.

And if you’re still deciding whether college is the right next step for you, Shappley recommends getting creative with the skills you’ve gained throughout high school. Did you lead a class science project? Did you help to organize a school fundraiser? “These can all be helpful skills and experiences to highlight when looking for roles while still deciding about continued education,” she says.

“I’d also tell new graduates that learning never stops. Life-long learning can be as simple as listening to a podcast, reading an interesting article or book, keeping up with trends and thought leaders or taking online courses.”

Hire for the future

For some young people, attaining a degree is and will remain an important step toward the career path they want to pursue. But as the hiring landscape shifts, the degree is no longer the gold standard it once was.

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The time has come for employers and prospective employees alike to think more broadly about what makes some candidates a fit for a job, regardless of their educational background. Finding ways to value people for the skills they bring to the job—skills that help prove that they can create results—is the path forward. A skills-based hiring philosophy will not only help bridge the skills gap, but will also create a more diverse, inclusive and vibrant workforce.

No degree? No problem. It’s time to hire for the future, not for the past.

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About The Author
Mark Perna
Mark C. Perna is an international speaker and bestselling author. He also serves as CEO of TFS Results, a strategic consulting firm at the forefront of the national paradigm shift in education and workforce development.
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