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Why progressive employers no longer require a degree
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Why progressive employers no longer require a degree

Written by Darren Timmins

Darren is a Co-founder of Animate Search and recruitment industry elder (sadly). Living in Barcelona and working across Europe he is inspired by the different challenges the diverse region brings up every day for his clients.


Employers are competing harder than ever before to attract the same pool of talented candidates. Many of them talk proudly of attempts to increase inclusivity and diversity, and of championing a fresh approach that differentiates them from others. However, while corporate giants such as Apple, Google, IBM, Cisco, Deloitte, and Tesla have already removed the need for a degree from job requirements, others have yet to realise the benefits of widening the talent pipeline. We explore some of those benefits in this article.

Adapting to the candidate-driven marketplace

Choices choices.

The global health pandemic has led many employees to question what they want from their careers. That period of reflection has resulted in record numbers quitting their jobs during the Great Resignation.

According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of vacancies in the U.K. rose to a record 1,295,000 million between February and April 2022. That’s an increase of 499,300 from the pre-pandemic period from January to March 2020.

The issues extend beyond the U.K. Research provided by HR firm HR Worx suggests that the Great Resignation has led to increased restlessness among employees across Europe. They claim that “German employees are most likely to hunt for a new job (55%), closely followed by France (51%).”

Employers have to compete harder than ever to identify and attract talented candidates in the current climate. These circumstances have undoubtedly been a factor in why some employers have removed the need for a degree.

More diversification = financial success

Diverse teams are more successful in business

Evidence suggests that diverse leadership teams perform better. Some employers have found this point a challenge to wrap their heads around, while others have seemingly failed to address it.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that diverse teams produce 19% more revenue. They concluded that “companies with above-average diversity on their leadership teams report a greater payoff from innovation and higher EBIT margins. Even more persuasive, companies can start generating gains with relatively small changes in the makeup of their senior teams.”

A Mckinsey report reached similar conclusions on the financial benefits of more diverse workplaces.

This Forbes article highlights the problem in the U.S., pointing out that “By requiring a degree, employers effectively disqualify 64% of the population. When you break this down by race, accessibility further decreases by disqualifying 73.7% of Black, 82.2% Hispanic/LatinX, 71.9% Pacific Islander, and 83.2% American Indian/Alaskan Native identifying individuals.”

Skills over schools – a different approach to developing talent

University degree

The Centre for Creative Leadership has conducted extensive research into “how executives learn, grow, and change over the course of their careers”. They found that up to 70% of an individual’s growth was gained through on-the-job experience. (Granted, it’s a bit more nuanced than that – they also discuss how not all on-the-job experience should be considered equal, but you get the idea.)

Innovative employers are aware of this point. They are increasingly emphasising recruiting individuals with the aptitude to develop. Several successful entrepreneurs have shared their views on why they have removed the need for a degree from job applicants.

In a 2014 interview, Elon Musk said he looked for “evidence of exceptional ability” in a potential employee rather than a degree from a prestigious university.

When speaking about recruitment at Tesla in 2020, Musk added: “There’s no need even to have a college degree. At all. Or even high school. If somebody graduated from a great university that may be an indication that they will be capable of great things, but it’s not necessarily the case.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook described a similar approach, pointing out the “mismatch between the skills that are coming out of colleges and what the skills are that we believe we need in the future.”

Employer training programs

Corporate training seminar

Corporate training provides several mutual benefits for employers and employees. It can be tailored to the needs of both parties, address specific knowledge gaps, and improve employees’ effectiveness by teaching them new skills and business processes.

There is also compelling evidence to suggest that corporate training as part of an effective onboarding strategy can help improve staff retention and engagement. This article from the Society of Human Resource Management demonstrates the point with these three metrics:

  • “69 per cent of employees are more likely to stay with a company for three years if they experienced great onboarding.
  • New employees who went through a structured onboarding program were 58 per cent more likely to be with the organisation after three years.
  • Organisations with a standard onboarding process experience 50 per cent greater new-hire productivity.”

These factors are particularly significant in the current climate; reducing employee turnover has never been more critical to businesses.

Final thoughts

This article aims not to diminish the value of a degree. Yes, there is compelling evidence to suggest that all employers shouldn’t require a degree, but there are still certain professions and specific industries where a degree remains advantageous.

We hope this article encourages employers to consider whether it’s time they removed the need for a degree and to perhaps consider the benefits of an alternative, more inclusive approach.

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Animate, the talent management company, is a collective of recruitment gurus, research masters, and employer branding experts proud to bring you the best in sales, marketing, and technical talent. Every day, on every project.

We enable software and technology companies to enter new markets. We can also help increase market share through the power of people in an ever-evolving and competitive marketplace.

Written by Darren Timmins

Darren is a Co-founder of Animate Search and recruitment industry elder (sadly). Living in Barcelona and working across Europe he is inspired by the different challenges the diverse region brings up every day for his clients.