HR News Articles

Degrees of separation: companies shed degree requirements to promote merit over qualifications

Image 20170412 658 103wuuq
Companies relaxing degree requirements raises new questions about the value of a university education. Shutterstock


Joshua Krook, University of Adelaide

At the end of 2016, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) revealed that close to two-thirds of all Australians had completed a degree or apprenticeship. The Conversation


The growth in the number of people attending a university or TAFE has risen out of a cyclical demand-driven system called “academic inflation”.


Think supply and demand. If an employer can hire someone with a degree or someone without, they’ll hire the person with a degree because they are seen as the superior candidate. This puts pressure on everyone to get degrees. But once everyone has one, the value of having a degree goes down.


A couple of decades ago, a high school diploma was sufficient to get a job in journalism or business. Now a bachelor’s degree is required.


Where a bachelor’s degree was sufficient to get a job in research, now a master’s degree is required. Where a master’s degree was sufficient to get a job in university tutoring, now a PhD is required.


The number of people gaining master’s degrees has doubled from the early 1980s to the late 2000s. The PhD, once a niche qualification for the few, has become the definitive qualification of what it means to be an expert today.


For a young millennial, this means they might have to study three to six years longer than their parents did to get the same job. That’s three to six years of debt, without any increase in wages at the end of it. If that job requires only basic skills such as photocopying or research, then the millennial will not necessarily have any greater skills than their parents had with a high school diploma in the 1970s.


This is borne out by data from the US, showing that in 1973 only 28% of jobs required a degree, compared to 59% in 2008.


When companies demand more and more degrees for very basic jobs, they cut off access for unskilled workers to break into the job market. In many professions, the traditional route into a job was through an apprenticeship, which required no professional training or degree, no private tuition or cost on behalf of the student.


Even a degree like law, which is today seen as a prestigious qualification, used to be taught exclusively by students apprenticing in legal offices. The cost was borne out by the business, rather than the student, meaning students could come from a variety of backgrounds, including former convicts.


As a result, universities are increasingly being blamed for cementing privilege, by entrenching the positions of the wealthy in the job market, as those with the most access to degrees.


In response to concern over diversity and equality of access and opportunity, top firms including Ernst & Young and Penguin Random House have recently abandoned degree requirements altogether.


Ernst & Young got rid of all degree requirements in 2015, explaining that a candidate’s degree had no correlation to their future job performance. A year later, Penguin Random House followed suit, citing the need to hire applicants from more diverse backgrounds.


PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Ogilvy Group, Apple and Google have all relaxed their degree requirements in recent years, lowering required grades or targeting poor performing and non-college students. The idea is to hire people based on merit, rather than credentials, often by assessing candidates with psychometric testing or other performance based tests.


Instead of abandoning degree requirements altogether, some firms, including professional services firm Deloitte, have chosen to hide which university an applicant graduated from. The aim is to limit the “prestige” associated with an institution, so as to more accurately test the abilities of the applicant.


What matters in both this and the broader debate is a refocus on ability over credentials.


That some companies are relaxing degree requirements raises new questions about the value of a university education. The question is whether these few companies are outliers or the forerunners of a new trend of preferencing merit over qualifications. If the trend does persist, then the job market of the future may have as little barriers to entry as the job market of the 1970s.


Joshua Krook, Doctoral Candidate in Law, University of Adelaide


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Jobs Just For You, The HR Professional

Our weekly or daily email bulletins are guaranteed to contain only fresh employment opportunities


More info

Latest Jobs

HR Coordinator - Employee Relations
Australian Capital Territory

Employee Relations Consultant (ANU officer 6/7)
Australian Capital Territory

L&D Advisor
Western Australia

Instructional Design - Contract
New South Wales

Recruitment Advisor - Contract
Victoria

Training Administrator - Contract
New South Wales

Internal Recruitment Partner - Contract
New South Wales

Junior Global Mobility Consultant
New South Wales

HR Officer - Contract
New South Wales

HR Manager - Contract - 3 days pw
New South Wales

HR Consultant
Northern Territory

HR Business Partner - Contract
New South Wales

Internal Recruiter
New South Wales

People and Development Manager
Victoria

HR Director APAC & ME
New South Wales

Senior L&D Consultant
New South Wales

Recruitment Manager
New South Wales

Workplace Relations Advisor
Victoria

Recruitment Coordinator - Bosch Australia
Victoria

HR Business Partner - Contract
Queensland

Senior HR Advisor
Western Australia

Learning and Development Specialist - Contract
Victoria

HR Advisor
Victoria

People and Culture Business Partner
New South Wales

Internal Recruiter - Contract
New South Wales

Internal Recruiter
Victoria

HR Officer - Contract
Western Australia

Human Resources Advisor
Victoria

Divisional General Manager HR
New South Wales

Internal Recruiter - Contract
Victoria

IR Advisor - contract
Victoria

HR Manager
New South Wales

HR Manager - 6 month PT - Contract
New South Wales

Recruitment Manager
New South Wales

HR Business Partner - Contract
Victoria

HR Consultant
Queensland

HR Advisor
New South Wales

Internal Recruitment Specialist
Queensland

Learning & Development Advisor
New South Wales

HR Advisor
New South Wales

HR Assistant
New South Wales

HR Officer - Generalist & SAP implementation
New South Wales

Recruitment Coordinator
Queensland

Injury Management Consultant - Contract
Queensland

People and Culture Manager
Queensland

APS4 L&D and Training Administrator
Australian Capital Territory

APS6 HR Reporting and Workforce Planning - Contract
Australian Capital Territory

HR Change/Project Manager - HRIS - Contract
Victoria

Talent Acquisition Consultant - Contract
New South Wales

People & Performance Coordinator - Contract
New South Wales

HR Manager
Victoria

Recruitment Officer - Contract
Western Australia

APS6 Senior HR and Payroll Advisor
Australia

Learning and Development Manager
Victoria

Talent Acquisition Specialist - Contract
New South Wales

Internal Recruiter
Western Australia

People and Culture Policy Officer - contract
New South Wales

Principal HR Business Partner - Contract
Queensland

HR Advisor - 6 mths, poss PT
Victoria

HR Analyst - Contract
Queensland

Recruitment Coordinator - 3 month contract
New South Wales

HR Business Partner
New South Wales

Recruitment Manager
New South Wales

L&D Advisor
Victoria

People and Culture Coordinator - Contract
Queensland

APS 4 Staffing Project Officer - Contract
Northern Territory

Senior Recruitment Consultant - Contract
New South Wales

Learning and Development Manager - Contract
Victoria

Employee Relations Advisor
New South Wales

Workplace Relations Case Manager - Contract
New South Wales

HR Business Partner
Queensland

HR Officer - 3 months
Northern Territory

HR Advisor - Contract
New South Wales

HR Administrator
New South Wales

HR Project Consultant
Victoria

Talent Acquisition Consultant
Victoria

HR Business Partner - North Ryde
New South Wales

HR Advisor
New South Wales

L&D Coordinator - 2 Month Contract
Victoria

Recruitment Specialist - Contract
Queensland

Browse All Jobs