No degree? No problem. Tech firms move away from college requirement for new hires

With a 2% unemployment rate, the tech industry is rethinking what job applicants need to get hired. Skills-based hiring is on the rise, and 59% of employers are considering eliminating college degree requirements — changes that could reshape the IT workforce.

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Automation Workz partnered with Cisco to train minorities in various tech skills, but student completion rates were dismal at first — only 7.9% graduated, Byrd-Hill said.

The problem was motivation. Students didn’t have a vision for their lives because they’d never been mentored or offered technology training in primary school.

“It was painful. I said I’ve got to do something about that. That’s one of the reasons corporations don’t want to train people, because they know they’re going to drop out, and they’re not going to see the return on their investment. So, we created to tool to mitigate that damage,” Byrd-Hill said. “We have a 75% completion rate because we can predict who’s going to finish.”

Automation Workz uses personality profiles and coding games to determine which students, which Byrd-Hill calls "learners," will complete tech certification courses. The students add goals, put pictures in a vision board, and take a personality quiz. “Then we know based on that who’ll make the cut, and we’ve been pretty precise. I can tell you one thing it measures that most institutions don’t measure, and that’s grit,” she said.

“You can be really smart and not have the grit to finish. A lot of people go to four-year institutions, which means they were smart enough to get in, but they don’t finish,” Byrd-Hill added. “We try to measure motivation, because that’s what gets you over the finish line.”

Certification programs and dev boot camps deliver skills, too

Though technology certification programs and developer boot camps aren’t cheap, they’re vastly less expensive than four-year degrees. And they provide skills particular to a job, such as coding or specific certifications such as for Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Solutions Architect or Certified Cloud Security Professional.

Certifications can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $30,000, but easier-to-access training can lead to greater workforce equity.

Online code-learning platform Codecademy, for instance, offers 150 courses across 14 programming languages. At the start of the pandemic, the program experienced about a 70% increase in sign-ups.

"At that time, we also launched scholarship initiatives to help those most affected by the pandemic, including students and laid-off or furloughed workers. By the end of 2020, we signed up more than 5 million learners and provided over 200,000 scholarships to learners in need," said Koma Gandy, Vice President and Head of Curriculum at Codecademy.

Many of the courses are available for free, while learners can unlock a full catalog, including dedicated skill and career paths, for $40 a month or $240 a year.

The most popular programming languages on Codecademy's platform are Python, JavaScript, and HTML. Codecademy also offers interactive instruction for other career paths that includes projects that help students build portfolios of work and interview preparation skills. Some of the most popular career paths include Full-Stack Engineer, Front-End Engineer and Data Scientist.

"As online, skills-based learning becomes more accessible than ever, it offers a scalable solution to close both the skills and talent gap," Gandy said. "We’ve come to a point where technology is evolving so quickly that it’s impossible for employees and employers alike to keep up with the pace of innovation unless they have access to education programs that allow them to quickly and effectively learn new skills -- whether it’s on their own or within a company."

Such online programs "can help to reduce inequity by creating a more diverse workforce, since Blacks, LatinX, and other minority communities are materially less likely to have bachelor’s degrees than non-Hispanic whites and Asian Americans,” the HBR/Burning Glass study said.

Amy Spurling, founder and CEO of Compt, an HR technology company, said she doesn’t even know how many of her employees have degrees; she rarely looks at resumes when she hires.

Amy Spurling, founder and CEO of Compt Compt

Amy Spurling, founder and CEO of Compt.

Most of her employees came from job recruiters who are told to find people with specific skills. The first person Spurling hired for her software development team was a Haitian-American man with a college degree in accounting. The man had just switched careers after completing a General Assembly coding bootcamp.

“My hiring process is much more about the validation of current skills and how someone will be able to apply them,” Spurling said. “I don’t care where you went to school.

“If you’re trying to hire entry-level people, they all look the same on paper,” she said. “With entry-level folks, it’s really much more about attitude — what they bring to the table and what’s their coachability. Do they follow through? It’s those kinds of things I’m looking for, not which school did you go to, because honestly, I don’t care.”

Requiring a four-year degree for a job stifles diversity and creativity, said Spurling. Half of Compt's dozen employees are women and two-thirds are people of color. And computer science students — especially from top tier universities — have all been taught by the same professors, “and they all make the same, exact mistakes.”

“It’s ridiculous. Why are we doing this when there are other good programs that aren’t as exclusive,” she said. “The other way, you’re getting the same, exact flavor of engineer every single time, which is detrimental to building a tech company.”

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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