For decades, higher education has been considered the best way to gain the knowledge and experience employees need for a successful career. (At least, that’s what many people assumed.) For hiring managers, a college degree has long been a baseline for candidate qualifications. But what about people who pursue nontraditional career paths? If you overlook these candidates, are you missing out on a talent goldmine?
The Truth About Nontraditional Qualifications
All too often, resumes from people without a traditional education are immediately dismissed. This practice is so prevalent that applicants with any bachelor’s degree are more likely to get an interview, even if they didn’t study relevant subjects. In other words, you may have related skills and experience, but if you don’t have some kind of college education, you probably won’t be considered.
These hiring habits are antiquated and harmful. Exclusionary practices limit the candidate pool to a select group of people who can afford the financial burden of higher education. And those who can’t afford a degree but pursue one anyway will accrue a massive debt burden just to be competitive.
Frankly, focusing solely on people with a college education is not only bad for candidates — it’s also bad for business. Here’s why. When you reject nontraditional applicants up front, you’re arbitrarily excluding qualified candidates from interviews. As a result, you’re likely to miss perfectly qualified, eager candidates with the right skills and experience. It also means your recruiting process may be longer and more costly. What’s more, it can lead to weaker hiring decisions.
Fortunately, employers are starting to soften their stance on higher education. Large companies such as Google, Bank of America, and General Motors have been removing college degree requirements from certain jobs. Not surprisingly, younger workers are welcoming these changes. For example, 75% of Gen Z workers already believe college isn’t the only way to get a good education. And as more younger workers enter the workforce, their influence on hiring practices will increase, as well.
Bur hiring managers who want to hire the best candidates don’t need to wait for prevailing trends to change. There are concrete steps that can open your organization to more qualified applicants, regardless of their educational background. So, what exactly can you do to destigmatize nontraditional education in hiring decisions, and strengthen your businesses in the process?
4 Ways to Support Nontraditional Career Paths
1. Make Sure Change Starts at the Top
To transform a hiring culture that’s deeply ingrained in your organization, everyone needs to get involved. Start by ensuring that leaders accept new hiring standards and consistently champion these changes.
Get senior executives and middle managers to buy-off on talent acquisition methods that attract candidates from alternative sources. This is especially true for leaders in charge of hiring decisions. Broadly communicate your commitment by advertising new methods internally and externally. And prepare to prove the impact of this approach by ensuring that nontraditional hires have sufficient resources and support to succeed in their role.
2. Follow Other Employers’ Lead
An increasing number of companies across a broad spectrum of industries are already letting go of four-year degree requirements. When this occurs, skills and experience requirements also tend to expand. One useful tip is to research businesses with similar talent needs so you can learn from them.
For example, analyze how organizations like yours have adjusted their job requirements and evaluate the impact of these changes. For example, if you’re in the tech industry, Dell is an excellent example. Dell actually abandoned its university recruiting program. Now, the company offers apprenticeships and certificate programs to help develop talent with a wide range of desired qualifications.
3. Build Your Own Nontraditional Education Opportunities
One of the best ways to find top job candidates is to train them in-house. There are many ways to foster nontraditional talent from within, including career development opportunities, apprenticeships, upskilling, and reskilling programs. In fact, upskilling alone can improve a company’s culture and boost CEO confidence in measurable business results.
Many companies are already using these strategies to move their hiring practices away from a traditional focus on college degrees. For instance, Accenture launched an apprenticeship program in 2016. This program has helped the company hire hundreds of productive, qualified candidates from nontraditional education paths.
4. Get Involved in Your Local Community — And Stay Involved
Have you tapped into your local community as a sourcing channel? Many organizations have discovered that hiring locally removes relocation obstacles and makes it easier to verify candidate references. By sourcing local candidates, you can also increase the likelihood that new talent will fit well into your company culture.
For the best results when hiring locally, it’s important to conduct ongoing community outreach. By building your local networks and expanding awareness and knowledge of local sources, you can more easily build a more reliable, qualified talent pool.
Final Notes on Elevating Nontraditional Career Paths
The days of hiring managers demanding degrees are numbered. Candidates don’t always have equal access to higher education — or the money and time to complete a college education. Degrees still have their place in the talent acquisition process. But increasingly, employers are seeing better results by adjusting their sourcing and hiring methods — starting with degree requirements. By leading the charge, HR and business managers can reduce skills shortages, overcome talent obstacles, and improve organizational performance.