The Great Resignation is forcing many hiring managers to focus on skills over college degrees. This shift is extending to technical careers, as the job market experiences a growing desire for workers with both hard and soft skills.
When there is not enough talent to supply demand, employers tend to emphasize skills over four-year degrees, according to a recent report by Harvard Business Review and Emsi Burning Glass, a top labor-market data company, which examined 51 million jobs listings between 2017 and 2020. The changes are largest among roles that require some post-secondary education or training but not a four-year college degree. (There was also a shift among some companies seeking higher-skilled employees, though not as prominent.)
While organizations still prefer technical workers with college degrees overall, the study found that four-year degrees are becoming less important to many organizations as the results vary widely between companies. For example:
- Less than 30% of job listings at Accenture and IBM required degrees for software quality-assurance engineers, compared to over 90% of listings requiring them for the same role at Intel and HP. At Oracle, 100% of listings for the position required a degree.
- More generally, 43% of postings for IT jobs required degrees at Accenture, compared to 29% at IBM, as of the end of last year. At other companies, such as Facebook (Meta) and Microsoft, there were no changes to degree requirements for IT candidates between 2017 and 2021.
- While there was a large shift at Apple and Google, over 70% of their IT postings still required degrees.
Why are college degrees still preferred? According to the study’s authors, employers tend to perceive college graduates as possessing valuable soft skills, also known as core skills, compared to those without degrees. One such sought after skill is the ability to work well with others– a valuable asset in an increasingly digital workforce. The study also found that even employers who did not require degrees placed even more emphasis on these soft skills.
“Employers who eliminated degree requirements, we found, frequently added more-detailed soft-skills requirements in their postings,” the authors wrote in Harvard Business Review.
What Soft Skills Do Employers Seek?
With digital transformation expanding rapidly across the workforce, employers are seeking technical professionals capable of collaborating effectively under pressure. According to the Enterprisers Project, three essential soft skills employers look for in potential technical hires include:
- The ability to clearly communicate in collaborative environments: Whether you are giving a presentation, participating in meetings, working on a team project, or writing emails, having the ability to effectively answer questions, deliver clear feedback, and listen to others is essential. These same principles especially apply when you are communicating with non-technical professionals who don’t have the same level of knowledge as you.
- Being able to manage your time and keep up with complex projects: For IT professionals, your work will have an impact on many other functions of the organization, so you will need to be able to stay ahead of projects and deadlines.
- The ability to manage stress: Many technical professionals work under constant pressure as their industries evolve. As such, employers desire candidates who can work effectively under stress without it negatively impacting their work and team.
Join IEEE Education Week (4-8 April 2022)
Are you looking to grow your skills? Check out IEEE Education Week for continuing education opportunities.
IEEE Education Week (4-8 April 2022) is a weeklong celebration of continuing education opportunities provided by IEEE and its many organizational units, societies, and councils, as the world’s largest technical professional association. Through local and regional activities, webinars, online courses, scholarships, and more, this event offers IEEE members and the global community a wealth of educational resources. Participants can also earn points towards an IEEE Education Week Digital Badge. The celebration will feature both in-person and virtual events. Check out the IEEE Education Week video to learn more.
Who Can Join?
IEEE offers pre-university STEM, university, and continuing professional education resources for students, engineers, and technical professionals worldwide. This celebration will highlight resources for:
- Engineers and professionals working in technical fields,
- University students and faculty members,
- Anyone looking for pre-university STEM education resources and experiences to encourage the next generation of engineers and technologists
You do not need to be an IEEE member to participate. However, IEEE members receive free and discounted access to many of these events and resources— so check out these opportunities! Not an IEEE member? Now is the perfect time to join to take advantage of membership benefits. Click here to learn more.
Are You Part of an IEEE-affiliated Group?
If you’d like to be involved in the celebration as an IEEE-affiliated group by offering educational events, resources, and/or special educational offers on the IEEE Education Week website, we would love to feature them! Learn how to get involved.
IEEE Education: Why Lifelong Learning is an Essential Part of Your Professional Home
IEEE President Ray Liu will be hosting a webinar at the start of the week on 5 April at 1 p.m. EDT. The event will cover why lifelong learning and continuing education are an essential part of what makes IEEE the professional home for hundreds of thousands of IEEE members. Registration is now open.
Fuller, Joseph, Langer, Christina, and Sigelman, Matt. (11 February 2022). Skills-Based Hiring Is on the Rise. Harvard Business Review.
Patel, Pinal. (9 November 2021). 3 essential soft skills IT pros need. The Enterprisers Project.