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Hiring based on skills is a win-win for employees and employers by removing 'unnecessary barriers:' report

Researchers argue by hiring based on skill set rather than college degrees, employers can open up jobs to qualified candidates who previosly weren't able to apply.

As college debt mounts, more young Americans are saddled with bills they can't pay back on degrees that are oftentimes unnecessary for their careers. In response, governments across the country are looking at ways to expand the hiring pool by removing educational requirements for many jobs to instead focus on the skills and experiences they possess. 

Degree requirements can be an unnecessary barrier to public employment, according to researchers at the Cicero Institute, who are pushing for policy changes that will make public jobs available to the most qualified candidates. Over 70 million Americans have valuable work experience but lack a college degree and about 60% of public jobs require a college degree, which only about 35% of workers have, according to Cicero's research. 

Stacy Guber, a Cicero Institute visiting fellow, told Fox News Digital that skills-based hiring is a movement that is growing across the country. 

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"You're changing the way that the public sector is hiring, so it's changing the way that the employers are thinking about hiring candidates and the way that candidates are now applying for jobs, and you're opening up all these new jobs to qualified candidates who weren't able to apply for them before," she said. 

"What you'll notice in the workforce right now is there's kind of a cultural shift changing," she added. "What individuals want when they enter a job is different than it used to be, so employers also have to think about that as they're changing their hiring practices as well. Because by changing from checking the degree box to now taking the time to go through what skills are actually required for the job, you're requiring people to think differently and put more effort into it."

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In 2020, former President Trump signed an executive order that removed four-year degree requirements for all federal civilian jobs, which was one of the few executive orders that carried over to President Biden's administration and has often been a winning issue across the aisle. 

In 2022, Maryland became the first state in the country to remove college degree requirements from public job openings in administration roles, IT and customer service. As a result, the state, then led by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, saw a 41% increase in non-degree holding state hires in the first four months after it was enacted, according to data from Cicero. 

Now, there are over 20 states that have passed executive orders, legislation, and more recently, HR policy changes that have changed the landscape of hiring in the public sector. 

The Cicero Institute's research focused on two areas to expand the initiative to more states, which included removing unnecessary degree requirements from public job postings and allowing public employers to justify degree requirements in job postings when needed. 

Jonathan Wolfson, chief legal officer and policy director at the Cicero Institute, formerly led the policy office at the Department of Labor and also served on the White House Council of Economic Advisers. He and his colleague Michael Brickman worked in the Trump administration among a small team of people who led the effort for the skills-based executive order.

"This takes away an incentive to get a degree that is just a ‘checking the box’ mechanism," he said. "There are people in the private and public sector who have been told for a long time [that] in order to get a specific promotion, you have to go get a degree. It doesn't have to be a degree in anything in particular, you just have to have a degree. So, people would go to all the schools they could possibly find and would say, 'What's the fastest degree I can get' … whether it's a smart degree to get or not."

"People ended up taking on debt and getting degrees not because that degree was actually going to benefit them in the job," he said. "You had people who had worked at a private company for 20 years and were told, ‘Oh, well, in order to become a general manager, you have to have a college degree, even though you've been working here since you were 20,' and you obviously know everything there is to know about their company and those people would then go and find a degree that they could find, whatever it was, and they would get it just so they could get that promotion."

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"Now you're not having people go to school because they're being told, ‘You just have to check a box’. Now they're going to go and get training that actually benefits themselves and the company that they're working for," he added.

Brickman, the education policy director and a senior fellow at the Cicero Institute, said the conversation around skills-based hiring goes hand-in-hand with the student debt crisis.

"A lot of people went out and got degrees that don't have very much value and so now the federal government is trying to forgive those loans," he said. "We're forcing taxpayers to pay off those loans, is probably more accurate way to say it."

But Guber argued that hiring based on skills is beneficial for the employer and the employee.

"It's a bipartisan reform that just really helps everyone," she said. "You're opening up jobs to all these qualified candidates that previously were not able to apply for them, even though they were qualified, and they had the skills, and now they're able to pursue a more meaningful career. It also helps the employers because now they can hire from a wider pool of candidates that are actually more qualified for the role."

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Guber believes skills-based programs are going to be more prominent in the future, because by "developing these apprenticeship programs and learning and development programs, people can gain the skills that they need for the roles while they're training for the job versus having to go back and get the degree, to then get the role."

"Of course, there are those jobs that still require certain degrees, but there are a lot of those middle skills roles, technical roles that don't require a degree but instead, people can learn through on-the-job training, through learning programs, through apprenticeship programs," she said. "These are all kind of extensions of this skills-based hiring movement that we're going to start seeing as different employers in the public sector or private sector start to come out with more of these programs."

Brickman emphasized that while their focus has been the public sector, the private sector can learn from their research and what the government programs have done, by looking at the skills and competencies a person might have, over the fact that they have a four-year degree.

"What do people know, what can they do, rather than just what piece of paper do they hold in their hand," he said. "That started to get the ball rolling in terms of private sector employers, big companies, talking about this."

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