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| 2 minutes read

Why employers should ditch the degree unless it’s role critical.

Graduating with a degree was once considered key to kickstarting a prosperous career and many recruiters would typically filter shortlists by removing applicants who weren’t degree qualified without any discussion. This is a traditional and aged way of hiring, posing a barrier for employers who aim to build diverse and inclusive workforces for many reasons. Unfortunately, the practice still exists today and can be one of the methods that employers find the most difficult to ditch.

Interestingly, this article from the Harvard Business Review shares that the practice took off in the early 2000’s with a significant number of employers adding degree requirements to the descriptions of jobs that hadn’t previously required degrees, a trend that became particularly pronounced after the Great Recession of 08-09 and commonly referred to as ‘Degree inflation’.

The same article recognises that skills-based hiring is on the rise which will open opportunities to a large population of potential employees who in recent years have often been excluded from consideration because of degree inflation. More and more employers are recognising that the qualifications available don’t always fully match the needs of their businesses now or in the future with 45% of employers saying an applicant having a degree is ‘not important’ according to an article written by 

It’s also reported by the Mirror that in 2023 that less than half of graduates were working in a career that related to their degree. Even the universities minister, Michelle Donelan, acknowledges that “higher education is not necessarily the best route to get to where you want in life” and that that true social mobility is about improving outcomes rather than university placements as reported by the Guardian.

How does 'Degree Inflation' impact social mobility, you ask? It’s widely reported that individuals from a lower socio-economic background are less likely to attend or complete a university course but that doesn’t mean that this group of people are less competent or capable. The Social Mobility Commission shares thoughts from the former CEO of Personal Banking at Barclays, Steven Cooper, who left school at 16 and became a bank teller. Steven has faced many barriers over his 30-year career namely promotions hinging on a specific level of qualification or assumptions that he should be in a clerical role given his background however he’s managed to overcome this and enjoy a career that has taken him to the most senior levels.

 It’s a fascinating story but unfortunately not the case for so many others.

Society is moving in the right direction but there is still more to be done. According to LinkedIn, there were only 30% of jobs posted that don’t require a degree in 2022. It would be interesting to know how many advertisements that required a degree qualified individual had actually stated which course or topic the individual should be qualified in as far too often the specialism isn’t declared leaving room for speculation if a degree level qualification is required at all. 

To promote, enable and accelerate social mobility and create inclusive workplace and hiring practices, organisations should think harder and smarter about talent attraction and retention. Shifting focus from rigid degree requirements to a skills-based hiring approach levels the playing field and provides opportunity for individuals from all backgrounds to thrive.

Skills-based hiring will open opportunities to a large population of potential employees who in recent years have often been excluded from consideration because of degree inflation


candidate attraction, diversity equity inclusion, early careers and campus, future of work, innovation, leadership, social mobility, talent acquisition