Half of employers say degrees do not matter when hiring, survey reveals

Three quarters value candidates’ willingness to learn over qualifications, as firms increasingly rethink recruitment processes

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Nearly half (45 per cent) of employers say an applicant having a degree is ‘not important’, according to a survey by recruitment firm Hays.

A further two in five (39 per cent) of the 14,925 employers surveyed said a degree was ‘quite important but not essential’, while just one in six (16 per cent) viewed the qualification as essential when recruiting. 

Melanie Forbes, managing director of Association or Professional Staffing Companies OutSource, told People Management: “People are leaving education with qualifications that don’t fully match the needs of today’s employers, let alone their future requirements. 

“With artificial intelligence, in particular generative AI, influencing the skills of the workforce, businesses need agile talent attraction solutions and that’s where skills-based hiring will be valuable.”

The survey also found that three quarters (73 per cent) of businesses value a candidate’s willingness to learn more than their existing skillset. 

Employers are also becoming increasingly willing to train workers, with four in five (80 per cent) saying they would hire someone who was under qualified with the intention of upskilling them, compared to 73 per cent last year. 

“A willingness to learn, improve and grow can in certain circumstances outweigh true academic qualifications,” said Nick Allwood, regional director at Macmillan Davies.

“For candidates, it removes a lot of the traditional barriers to entry into certain companies or roles and offers comfort that a business is open minded to background and more likely to invest in further development to enhance their skillset, both huge factors in gaining commitment from a more discerning employee base.”

He added: “It’s a different way of thinking about talent attraction and it’s here to stay.”

If employers are struggling to find candidates with the right skills, they should consider what similar skills would be likely to ensure success if they were then trained internally, Allwood advised.

Jemma Rawlins, director at HRLife, told People Management: “Most recently, there is a huge focus on hiring for attitude, cultural fit and of course skills rather than necessarily having a degree.”

Firms were starting to focus more on skills and ability, rather than basing their decision on “a degree that they may have gained many years ago”, she said.

Despite this change in attitudes, a fifth (21 per cent) of employers based in London said they would not consider hiring someone who does not have a degree.

However, Rawlins said job descriptions often state that a degree is required, but then the companies do not use it as a factor in shortlisting candidates. “Perhaps it’s time to rethink the requirements on a job description,” she said.

Forbes added: “There is a growing recognition of the value of skills-based hiring. Successfully shifting to this approach will require collaboration across the entire talent ecosystem […] every stage of the talent lifecycle needs to embrace this change.”

She said the shift may lead to “the end of the CV”, which she said was “significantly outdated and has the potential to hinder skills-based hiring”.

Hiring managers will need support in identifying those who have potential rather than specific qualifications, Forbes continued: “We’re already on our way to a more modern hiring process that is skills rather than experience based, but we’ve not yet reached a point where it is the norm.

“But if every cog in the talent acquisition and management wheel is working together, progress will be swift.”