I read articles about the death of college degrees the same way I read marketing articles about the ‘death of email.’ It makes a good headline, but is there substance to the clickbait? When it comes to college degrees and the tech industry, the takeaway seems to be – college degrees: still nice to have, but definitely not required. While that’s a good thing for applicants and the overall industry, it signals bad things for recruiters – namely, the continued cybersecurity talent shortage means recruiters today simply don’t have enough professionals to fill their openings. And the more arbitrary requirements they can drop, the better.
CompTIA reports the unemployment rate for tech workers hit 1.3% in May, the lowest rate in nearly two decades. Students of Department of Labor vacancy announcements are calling out warnings that the tech skills gap, rather than improving, continues to get worse – with more vacancies than openings.
It’s this tight talent market that is prompting tech giants like IBM to lift degree requirements. In 2017, IBM reported 15% of its employees didn’t have a four-year college degree.
In a recent op ed, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty touted the need for education reform, and noted the efforts she and other tech leaders were making to reform the Higher Education Act. Congress allocates $130 billion to higher education through HEA – money that singles out those pursuing higher education, and leaves those who choose not to pursue a traditional college degree behind.
“For too long we’ve focused on bachelor’s degrees as the pathway to a good job, while not providing enough access to learning for those at different stages in their careers,” wrote Rometty.
IBM isn’t the only tech employer calling on all qualified candidates – not just those with a four-year degree. Apple and Google are well-known for opening the doors to the best skilled-candidate, not necessarily the one with a college degree. And even tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft, where college degrees are ‘strongly preferred’ often note they are willing to hire a non-degreed candidate.
How do you get a job without a degree?
If you don’t have that beautifully sealed college diploma displayed at your desk, you may wonder how to get your foot in the door with a major tech company – and there’s the rub. If you’ve built your career from the ground up and can apply to a mid-level position with a well-built resume and list of accomplishments before you, your lack of degree will likely not stand in your way. But recruiters with just about every tech company admit obtaining an entry level job without a degree and proven skills is another story.
That’s why tech leaders like Rometty are calling on congress to reform HEA, and create a clearer path to a tech job – no degree required. With the rise of programs like coding bootcamps and the emphasis on certifications in the tech industry, it’s very possible to develop tech skills though robust education programs – that don’t include a four-year degree.
If you do have the skills, but you’re short on experience, the best way to obtain a tech position is through a referral – so networking is critically important. Just like obtaining a college degree, thoroughly research any boot camp programs or certifications. Most programs tout their ability to place candidates after program completion, so know what kind of career transition options are available to those who successfully complete the program.
The tech skills gap isn’t a problem that happened overnight. The same agility necessary to work in tech today needs to be applied to tech education and hiring efforts. Adjusting job requirements to open the door to more qualified applicants is a good thing. But today’s systemic shortage of qualified (and in this industry, cleared) tech professionals won’t be solved by education reform alone. But it is one critical – and actionable – effort where the c-suite and recruiters can work together. When building your talent pipeline, the bench needs to be filled with every available qualified candidate – degree or no degree.