Loosening Degree Requirements for Tech Jobs

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a six-post series on the whitepaper, “Six Factors Influencing the Future of Tech Talent.”

Employers are missing out on hordes of untapped talent.

For decades, a degree was considered a prerequisite to gaining access to the best job opportunities – and from 2007 to 2010, jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher increased by ten percent. This increase left thousands of job opportunities unavailable to masses of talented and capable workers.

However, the landscape is now shifting. Described as “The New-Collar Workforce,” emerging research details a growing percentage of non-degreed workers. These people excel after being hired through skills-based programs focusing on capabilities rather than degrees or diplomas.

Further research indicates some companies are doing this exceptionally well through capability-focused job descriptions, apprenticeships, training programs and collaboration with external partners to broaden their talent pipeline.

In a labor shortage, these companies benefit from being able to source from a wider pool of talent while also making gains toward diversity and equity goals that many organizations have defined.

While many immediately think non-degreed talent can’t compete with traditional four-year degree talent, they’d be wrong. Research from Accenture and Harvard Business School analyzed what they refer to as “middle-skill” jobs – jobs that require post-high-school training but don’t require a Bachelor’s degree. They found no differences in productivity when these jobs were performed by college graduates vs. non-degree workers.

This is a trend that will not only continue to grow but will set employers apart in the race for top talent. The American Opportunity Index assessed the 250 largest U.S. public companies based on specific worker outcomes: growth, development and internal mobility. Notably, it measured which companies were likely to support and create opportunities for candidates without degrees.  This included assessing their ability to gain entry into the company, how well they were compensated and how far they advanced.

The approach and focus of the index are innovative. Rather than focusing economic advancement indicators on the employee’s education and training, it focused on the company and how well it created opportunities internally.

For example, U.S. Bank was identified within the Index as a Top 50 company regarding employee ability to advance without a degree. In 2022 alone, more than 45 percent of the company’s total hires were non-degreed employees, and 40 percent of their positions were filled through internal hires. Talent innovation like this will substantially impact their ability to retain their current workforce and attract future hires.

AT&T was another leader across multiple groups in the American Opportunity Index, including:

  • Best workplace to start from
  • Best workplace at growing their talent
  • Best workplace to advance within
  • Best workplace to stay and thrive at one company
  • Best workplace to advance without a college degree

According to internal surveys, 85 percent of AT&T employees intend to stay with the company for at least the next 12 months, a fact that is unsurprising when you consider the strong link between learning, development, internal mobility and employee retention. According to AT&T’s Senior Executive Vice President of Human Resources, Angela Santone,  “Less than five percent of our positions require a college degree, so we really do look for skill sets and experience first.”

Other leaders in the “employee ability to advance without a degree” group came from various industries, including:

  • Financial Services: American Express, Mastercard, Capital One, Liberty Mutual
  • Software & Technology: Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco, Intel, Qualcomm
  • Retail: Costco, Target, CVS

Corporations have gotten used to an over-reliance on traditional higher ed to produce qualified graduates, but those days are over.

About 60,000 computer science degrees were awarded in 2021, at a time when the labor market showed 1.5 million unique job postings in computer & mathematical occupations (Lightcast job posting analytics, Q3-2021). The supply and demand imbalance has increased, giving tech leaders anxiety about the future.

New sources of talent supply are becoming more viable, but HR departments need a scalable way to compare these new sources to traditional channels.

Before enrolling in our program to become a full-stack developer, every applicant to Tech Elevator takes our proprietary aptitude test, which we use to detect the cognitive ability to code.  Our assessment is informed by answers to questions on themes like logical thinking, conditional reasoning and pattern recognition. Over many years, we’ve found that about 30 percent of the general population possesses this ability — regardless of gender, race, or prior education.

The aptitude test has a high success rate of identifying individuals with potential. In fact, 63 percent of Tech Elevator alumni report being promoted in under two years post-graduation, as well as receiving ten percent year-over-year raises.

Once enrolled, our students receive quality instruction on par with the very best colleges and universities. Our curriculum and courses are delivered by veteran instructors coming to Tech Elevator from companies like Google, Microsoft and Nike. Our curriculum teaches full-stack fundamentals built on Java or .NET, giving students a complete skill set to join a company as a junior developer.

This helps to explain how our employer partners achieve exceptional retention rates. KeyBank, for example, has reskilled 81 employees with Tech Elevator and, to date, has achieved a 100 percent retention rate of individuals who go through the program.

To learn more about how workforce transformation providers can implement skills-first talent strategies beyond traditional higher education, read about Tech Elevator’s solutions for workforce development.


Written by Paul Burani, Tech Elevator’s VP of Enterprise