Is a College Degree Really Necessary to do the Job?

The University of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium has 92,746 seats. As large as that is — and it’s larger than all 31 NFL stadiums — it is still not big enough to seat every unemployed, out of school 16-24 year-old in the city of Atlanta.

It’s Ryan Downey’s job to do something about that. And to do it so well, he tells his Atlanta DisruptHR audience, that he puts himself out of a job.  Downey is director of recruitment & admissions at YearUp, a national training and development organization for urban youths.

One reason so many young people are unemployed and underemployed, says Downey, “is the credentials gap. This is requiring 4-year degrees for roles that historically have not required that kind of degree attainment.” This upskilling of academic requirements may be appropriate for some jobs, he agrees, but often it is a “proxy for higher quality employees.” He suggests that it is not a good one when you’re talking about “assets like dependability, teamwork, leadership. I think about people who are self-directed learners. And I know, because I did go to three schools, that I didn’t get all those skills through school.”

To reach these young people who have developed skills and talents through initiative and life experience, Downey offers two suggestions:

  1. When building a talent pool and writing job descriptions, “We need to think about competencies and skills and stop excluding people based on degrees.”
  2. Invest in apprenticeship and internship programs.

DisruptHR presentations are limited to 5 minutes, so hearing how you can identify and hire the young people who have everything you want except for that diploma will take less time than getting your order at Starbucks.

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