Why employers are dumping degree requirements from job adverts

Research has shown that the word ‘degree’ has officially fallen out of fashion in the UK talent marketplace.

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Helena Young

Last week, a record number of 18-year-olds failed to achieve their predicted A-levels, preventing them from studying for a degree at their first-choice university. But, as new research shows, they needn’t be upset.

Analysis of more than 365,000 job ads by recruitment company, Totaljobs has found that the number of entry-level job adverts referencing “degree” have dropped by 31% in five years.

According to the findings, just 22% of job postings for junior positions now directly mention the term – versus 53% in 2018.

The data is a clear sign that today’s employers are increasingly rejecting traditional hiring bias towards those with a university degree, and making room for those undertaking alternative routes into a career.

More education doesn’t mean more money

The notion of a university degree as the key to all career paths has been around for decades. But it was prime minister Tony Blair’s speech in 1999, in which he said that 50% of young people should attend higher education, that solidified the idea.

Since then, the number of young people at university has almost doubled, as more students buy into the idea that it will improve their employment prospects and earnings potential.

Simultaneously, the benefits of a university education have become tenuous. Amid a recruitment and inflationary crisis, Startups research has found that, on average, today’s graduates expect just over £5,000 more than what employers can offer from a base salary.

Totaljobs says it currently has more than 125,655 entry level jobs on its site that do not require a degree. It says some of these pay salaries up to £45,385 – £20,000 more than the average starting salary for graduates.

Some of the highest paying entry level positions available to apply for without a university degree include:

  • Junior Project Manager
  • Trainee Smart Meter Engineer
  • Junior HR Business Partner
  • Trainee Mortgage Advisor

The disparity between what graduates think their degree is worth, and what it really means to employers, is even causing conflict.

One HR expert told us that her company had been facing unaffordable pay and benefit demands from new graduates, putting off many recruiters and causing a drop in vacancies for entry-level job roles.

On top of this, bosses now report that the current higher education system is not giving students the skills they need to succeed in the modern workplace. 7 in 10 senior leaders say they can learn more valuable skills in the workplace than by studying.

With both employers and graduates disappointed with their return on investment, it’s not surprising that the Totaljobs data shows companies are relaxing educational requirements in listings.

The death of the degree?

Historically, job adverts have often asked for specific qualifications, like a bachelor’s degree. Sometimes that degree is related to the job industry, such as in obvious cases like medicine.

Sometimes it’s left open. Any degree will do, so long as the recruiter can tick it off their recruitment checklist. In egregious cases, the type of university will be what’s prioritised.

Amid growing concerns around bias when it comes to this topic, however, many employers are now turning away from the practice. Not everyone has the opportunity to start or finish a degree, for reasons such as ill health or a lack of finances.

Previous Totaljobs research in partnership with the Social Mobility Foundation has revealed that a lack of qualifications is a key factor holding many people back from applying to jobs.

Arianne Graham is a 22-year-old Project Management Apprentice at BAE Systems. Graham predicts there will come a time “when no-one asks you about your grades or school history.

“I do think that times are changing, and there’s less pressure to go down the University route,” she adds. “There’s lots of different paths to success, there’s not just one route out there.”

How to do inclusive hiring

Particularly in today’s tightened labour market, it makes sense for employers to consider every potential source of talent to plug the widening skills gap.

Catering for applicants from different educational backgrounds will also demonstrate to job hunters that you’re an inclusive company that’s moving with the times – not reliant on outdated hiring processes.

Plus, you’ll eliminate a hurdle that might be blocking qualified candidates from your recruitment scope.

Communication is the first step to inclusive hiring. If a degree isn’t absolutely necessary for the role, but a nice-to-have, make it clear in your job adverts that you’ll be considering candidates with equivalent levels of skill or knowledge.

Avoid using language like ‘graduate role’, or corporate jargon to make a candidate feel unqualified for a role before they’ve clicked on it. Another option is to partner with a school leaver programme to offer apprenticeships, trainee placements, or a supported internship.

The work of apprentices has resulted in over half a billion pounds in cost-saving or revenue-generating activities for small employers, according to apprentice provider Multiverse. Plus, they provide a good career without putting trainees in debt.

Julius Probst, European Labour Economist at Totaljobs, says he can see a much wider range of entry options available for those just starting out in the workforce – supported by inclusive hiring strategy changes.

“Employers seeking to foster a diverse and successful working environment are looking beyond traditional talent pools,” says Probst.

“Whether that’s targeting varying socio-economic groups, different parts of the UK, or supporting those with less education through more practical onboarding programmes.”

Our full guide has more information about the benefits of taking on an apprenticeship in 2023.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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