Employers Rethink Need for College Degrees in Tight Labour Market
Google, Delta Air Lines and IBM have reduced requirements for some positions
Google, Delta Air Lines and IBM have reduced requirements for some positions
The tight labour market is prompting more employers to eliminate one of the biggest requirements for many higher-paying jobs: the need for a college degree.
Companies such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Delta Air Lines Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. have reduced educational requirements for certain positions and shifted hiring to focus more on skills and experience. Maryland this year cut college-degree requirements for many state jobs—leading to a surge in hiring—and incoming Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro campaigned on a similar initiative.
U.S. job postings requiring at least a bachelor’s degree were 41% in November, down from 46% at the start of 2019 ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to an analysis by the Burning Glass Institute, a think tank that studies the future of work. Degree requirements dropped even more early in the pandemic. They have grown since then but remain below pre pandemic levels.
The shift comes as demand for workers remains high and unemployment is low. Job postings far outpace the number of unemployed people looking for work—10.7 million openings in September compared with 5.8 million unemployed—creating unusually stiff competition for workers.
The persistently tight labor market has accelerated the trend that builds on a debate about the benefits and drawbacks of encouraging more people to attend four-year colleges and as organisations try to address racial disparities in the workplace.
Some occupations have universal degree requirements, such as doctors and engineers, while others typically have no higher education requirements, such as retail workers. There is a middle ground, such as tech positions, that have varying degree requirements depending on the industry, company and strength of the labor market and economy.
Lucy Mathis won a scholarship to attend a women in computer science conference. There, she learned about an IT internship at Google and eventually dropped out of her computer science undergraduate program to work at the company full time. The 28-year-old now makes a six-figure sum as a systems specialist.
“I found out I had a knack for IT,” she said. “I’m not good at academics. It’s not for me.”
More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have completed Google’s online college-alternative program that offers training in fast-growing fields such as digital marketing and project management, the company said. It and 150 other companies are now using the program to hire entry-level workers.
The majority of its U.S. roles at IBM no longer require a four-year degree after the company conducted a review of hiring practices, IBM spokeswoman Ashley Bright said.
Delta eased its educational requirements for pilots at the start of this year, saying a four-year college degree was preferred but no longer required of job applicants.
Walmart Inc., the country’s largest private employer, said it values skills and knowledge gained through work experience and that 75% of its U.S. salaried store management started their careers in hourly jobs.
“We don’t require degrees for most of our jobs in the field and increasingly in the home office as well,” Kathleen McLaughlin, Walmart executive vice president, said at an online event this fall. The company’s goal is to shift the “focus from the way someone got their skills, which is the degree, to what skills do they have.”
A four-year college degree holder has more lifetime earnings than one without. The lifetime earnings of a worker with a high-school diploma is $1.6 million while that of a bachelor’s degree holder is $2.8 million, according to a 2021 report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
But many people don’t finish college and are left with mountains of debt—more than 43 million people in the U.S. hold a total of $1.6 trillion in student-loan debt. While a college degree can provide specific workplace skills, workers can gain the skills needed for many jobs without a four-year degree.
Black and Hispanic people are less likely to have a college degree compared with white and Asian people, according to the Commerce Department. Men are less likely than women.
“Even though education is supposed to open up doors and windows of opportunity, they have, in some ways, become a means of closing off opportunity,” said Nicole Smith, the chief economist at the Georgetown centre.
The Ad Council, a marketing nonprofit that targets issues such as drunken driving, this summer launched a multiyear national advertising campaign aimed at reducing barriers to the workforce for non-college-degree holders. “Rethink bachelor’s degree requirements and discover a world of talent,” says one bus-stop poster.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan in March said the government would review college-degree requirements for every state job. State and local governments have struggled to hire workers in the tight labor market.
Half a year later, Maryland said the program is showing early signs of working as intended. The number of state employees hired without a four-year degree from May to August is up 41% from a year before while the number of all employees hired is up 14%.
Opportunity@Work, a nonprofit that wants to cut degree requirements, worked with Maryland on its program. Bridgette Gray, the chief customer officer, said there are around 70 million Americans over the age of 25 who are in the workforce today and don’t have a college degree. Around four million are already in high-wage careers.
“College is a clear pathway to upward mobility, but it shouldn’t be the only pathway,” she said.
Mark Townend, who leads recruiting efforts for Maryland’s state jobs, said reducing degree requirements was a way to tackle a societal problem and to make finding employees easier for the government. Mr. Townend and his team have been examining and rewriting nearly 2,500 job classifications for nearly 60,000 state workers.
“We basically had a need for more applicants,” he said. “There is a large population of non degree candidates who are good for our jobs.”
A recent Maryland job posting for an administrative officer paying up to nearly $80,000 a year said that the job required a high-school diploma and three years of experience. That same level job previously required four years of college.
Philip Deitchman, the head of human resources at Maryland’s Department of Juvenile Services, said he previously declined job candidates without the right credentials. The state had specification sheets that had strictly defined job requirements, he said.
“We would say, ‘Wow we want this person,’ but they didn’t have a college degree,” he said. “I’m passing up someone really good.”
Governments are less flexible and have more stringent requirements than the private sector, economists said, partly because they often have rules intended to reduce corruption and political favoritism.
Mr. Deitchman said since the policy change he is seeing more applicants and higher quality job applicants.
“I would rather have someone with experience,” he said. “It’s just something that should have been done years ago.”
Patricia Bruzdzinski works as an employee specialist for Maryland, helping state workers navigate health insurance and other human-resources issues. Ms. Bruzdzinski said she was hired at a lower level in 2016, partially because she doesn’t have a college degree. She said the new policy should help her advance in her career and open doors for others to get state jobs.
Ms. Bruzdzinski said online training resources and learning on the job have allowed her to gain new skills for her $50,000-a-year position.
“It’s also about self-education,” she said. “I listen to podcasts on Medicaid.”
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A food-and-wine writer from the U.S. describes his annual pilgrimage to the Normandy Coast for thalassotherapy—a round of treatments that’s proven to be an antidote for his occupational overindulgence.
AS A food-and-travel writer who lives in France, I face occupational hazards other people might envy: Think white Burgundies, foie gras, butter, cream and the world’s best cheeses. It’s a constant battle to avoid ending up with the silhouette of a pear.
That’s why in the years since I moved to Paris in 1986, I’ve become a fan of thalassotherapy, taking dozens of “cures” at some of the 50-odd thalassotherapy centres along the Atlantic and Mediterranean littorals of France. The word derives from the Greek words “thalassa” (sea) and “therapeia” (to nurse or cure) and refers to a series of treatments—heated seawater baths, stimulating jet showers and seaweed wraps—and exercise such as aqua gym (in-water calisthenics).
While these cures alleviate the fatigue and sluggishness I feel after months of late-night dinners and deadline pressure, I’ve found that a weeklong thalassotherapy circuit that includes low-calorie meals also contributes to a healthier, slimmer, better-toned me. Apparently, Plato believed “the sea cures all human ailments,” but my goal is simply to retreat, relax and, at the end, be able to tighten my belt to its customary notch.
A thalassotherapy experience can be completed in as little time as a weekend, but a typical stay lasts 5-7 days. A 6-day signature cure with room and board and four treatments a day costs about $1,580 at Thalazur in Cabourg, a well-mannered Belle Époque seaside resort in Normandy. It was there I booked my most recent extended cure in February, 2020.
I’d heard of Cabourg as a favourite escape of Marcel Proust, who stayed at the Grand Hôtel and, by his account, would gaze at the flinty waves of the English Channel while enjoying his favourite sole Normande (sole poached in cider with a rich cream sauce garnished with button mushrooms, shrimp and mussels).
The centre is a brisk 10-minute walk from the heart of Cabourg with its fan-shaped street plan spreading out from the casino and the Grand Hôtel. Even if my low-calorie regimen barred me from indulging in sole Normande, I never felt gastronomically deprived as I enjoyed a healthy menu with tasty choices such as freshly shucked Norman oysters and steamed salmon with spinach.
My pleasantly monastic existence found me donning a terry cloth bathrobe and slippers every morning and reporting for my daily program of five treatments. Administered by cheerful spa attendants in individual white-tiled spa cabins, these averaged 25 minutes each. While the seaweed jet baths were blissfully relaxing, the high-velocity jet showers, an attempt to pummel the cellulite out of you and improve circulation, were more of a “grin and bear it” prospect.
I can’t pretend I loved the wraps either: Slathered in puréed seaweed, swathed in huge sheets of plastic film and then covered with a heated blanket, I felt like I was being mummified. This detoxification process promises to rid you of “water weight,” and your parched skin receives a good dose of seaweed’s moisturising oligo elements, but I inevitably developed an itch somewhere I couldn’t scratch. Still, when the slick plastic was stripped away and I could shower, I felt hugely invigorated.
More alarming, I also endured cryotherapy. The attendants locked me in a capsule of dry air cooled to -230 degrees Fahrenheit for three minutes, an experience meant to improve circulation and increase production of cortisol, collagen, endorphins and adrenaline. The adrenaline rush, at least, was real; it was a profound relief to exit my capsule after being subjected to a blast of Arctic chill while wearing nothing more than black paper spa panties.
These morning regimens induced a languorous exhaustion, so I inevitably followed up the light lunch with a nap in the afternoon. Then, refreshed, I took long walks on the beach or bicycled along the promenade in front of the hotel.
Memories of my stay—and the 7 pounds I dropped there—prompted me to test the waters again last winter. I booked a 1-night, 2-day weekend sampler at the Thalazur in Port Camargue on the Mediterranean, an hour from my house.
This centre was smaller but also had lovely sea-views, plus my stylish sea-shack style room came with a large private balcony. The three treatments a day were excellent, too; the cost, about $178, was worth it for the belt-tightening.
When, on the Monday after my return home, I went to the single-window post office in my village, the post mistress raised her eyebrows theatrically. “Bonjour!” she said with a grin. “What happened!? You look great!” I went for a weekend of thalassotherapy, I told her. “Ah, voilà! La Thalasso fait toujours du bien,” she purred.
She was right, of course. I look forward to a week-long saltwater wallow this winter, maybe in Bandol with its views of the Mediterranean, or at the elegant new Relais Thalasso in the seaside town of Pornichet on the sunny Atlantic coast in the Loire region. Unlike at other centers, where you traipse about between treatments, the Relais Thalasso crew stash you in a spacious private suite with a comfy lounge area, the better to nap before another go-round.
France pioneered thalassotherapy but you can find excellent centers in other countries, too
For the uninitiated, La Perla, a stylish centre in San Sebastián in the Spanish Basque Country, is a great place to sample thalassotherapy before committing to a full-on cure. Originally established by Spain’s Queen Maria Cristina, when she was queen from 1829-1833, at the royal family’s summer house here, the spa was rebuilt in 1912 on a site overlooking La Concha, a crescent-shaped beach. A 5-hour day pass gives you access to a hydrotherapy pool, water beds, marine steam baths and an in-water exercise circuit. Another option includes a massage and lunch in the spa’s restaurant overlooking the sea. From $49 for a 5-hour day pass.
Vilalara Longevity Thalassa and Medical Spa in Lagoa, a city in Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region, is set in lush gardens overlooking the Atlantic. It has two seawater pools, 20 treatment cabins and a variety of cures, including a 5-night detoxification program with 2 thalassotherapy sessions per night, lymphatic drainage massages, access to thalasso pools and a consultation with a nutritionist to personalise a tasty low-calorie meal plan or a liquid diet of anti-inflammatory shakes, juices and soups. From about $3,899.
Situated on the Athenian Riviera, this world-class spa in the Divani Apollon Palace and Thalasso outside of Athens boasts the largest thalassotherapy pool in Greece with 16 different water jet areas in its expanse. The X factor at this family-run beach-front property with 25 treatment rooms is its healthy low-calorie menu created by the hotel’s chef and in-house dietician. Appetising proof that shedding pounds needn’t mean privation: the zucchini-crust Greek pizza with anthotryo (fresh cheese), cherry tomatoes, oregano and EVOO. From about $1,747 for a 3-day stay.
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