Unemployment numbers remain low and private and public sectors are competing for workers.
This dynamic has led to a recent shift toward skills-first hiring initiatives. This HR practice allows applicants to showcase more of their skills and abilities, rather than the number of years they have spent in a classroom. A skills-first approach may also reduce barriers for those who have the skills to perform the work and allow students from nondegree education pathways to access good, high-paying jobs.
So far, nine states have removed the degree requirement associated with government jobs to focus more on talent and experience. These states include Alaska, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and Virginia. A few approaches from different states are highlighted below.
Reducing Barriers to State Employment
A 2021 report from Accenture and the Harvard Business School encourages leaders to hire “hidden workers” – applicants who want to work and are actively seeking work, but are excluded from hiring processes that focus on degree attainment rather observed capabilities.
North Carolina has begun to implement this ethos into its hiring practices. House Bill 210 (2023) directs the State Human Resources Commission to examine the educational, experiential, and training requirements for jobs and determine when practical experience may be considered equivalent to an academic degree. When academic degrees are found to be unnecessary, the commission must remove the degree requirements from the job description.
Similarly, South Dakota Executive order 2023-05 requires agencies to consider other relevant work and life experiences when looking at applicants during the hiring process. The state has discovered that current requirements, including a bachelor's degree, eliminate otherwise highly qualified individuals from consideration.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has also stressed the importance of moving away from educational requirements when considering candidates for public sector work. He said, "a degree should not be the only way to get a good-paying job or have a fulfilling career." In a 2022 statement, the Utah governor’s office also emphasized Utah’s efforts to broaden access to qualified talent and expand employment opportunities to diverse candidates and underrepresented groups.
Inspiring People to Pursue Public Service
Maryland S.B. 551, The SERVE Act of 2023 creates a service-year option for recent high school graduates as a pre-amble to entering the workforce or continuing their education. Graduates will earn a $15 hourly wage and have the option of working for a nonprofit organization, local government, or for-profit business. It is intended to equip program participants with professional development, mentoring, job training, financial literacy skills, and other supports. This workforce development initiative is also a means to strengthen the pipeline of talent into state and local governments and spark new interest in public service.
Recently, Virginia announced its plans to eliminate degree requirements for 90% of state job listings. By shifting and changing these requirements, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin ushers in a "landmark change" in how the state approaches talent acquisition. Similarly, the state also plans to expand and streamline universal licensing recognition and the credentialing processes for people looking for public employment.
Recent reports from the National Student Clearinghouse show that more and more high school graduates are choosing to forgo four-year college degrees. The decline in traditional education pathways may result in many more private businesses and public entities putting less weight on advanced education in favor of demonstrated skills. The federal government has even encouraged agencies to begin shifting hiring mindsets. A January 2021 memorandum, for example, reminded federal employers of “the long-standing requirement to limit the use of educational requirements in favor of stated skills when acquiring information technology (IT) services.”