Are degrees going out of fashion with employers?

The number of employers requiring a 2:1 degree from candidates has dropped to less than half for the first time in history. Are degrees going out of fashion?

Abbi Melville • 
Are degrees going out of fashion with employers?

For the last 50 years, the undergraduate degree has been considered the blue-ribbon qualification. Historically, graduates have generally been more employable than non-graduates and have tended to earn more than non-graduates in the long term. But, in more recent times, the value of a degree is being questioned. 

It’s not quite degree Armageddon but there’s a significant downtrend in their importance to employers.

This report by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) published at the end of 2022, found that the number of people managers requiring a 2:1 degree as minimum entry criteria for graduate jobs has dropped to 48%. This is the first time in the history of the ISE survey that the percentage of employers requiring a 2:1 degree had dropped to less than half.

The report also showed that since 2013 people managers are increasingly advertising positions with no minimum requirements and the number of employers adopting this approach has grown sharply from 21% to 26% in the past year. 

It’s not quite degree Armageddon, (as a 2:1 degree is still the most common requirement for graduate roles), but it is still a significant downward trend and a historical milestone in the importance of degrees to employers. 

Totaljobs have weighed in on the debate with a big data analysis of over 365,505 job adverts, the results of which were press-released in August this year. They found that the proportion of entry-level jobs that reference a degree has declined by 31% since 2019.

A desire for diversity and inclusion is leading employers to look outside the graduate box

Even though it’s not degree Armageddon, it’s clear that degrees are not as fashionable as they once were with employers. What is the reason behind this trend?

Julian Probst, European Labour Economist at Totaljobs has provided some insights into their data analysis.

“Employers seeking to foster a diverse and successful working environment are looking beyond traditional talent pools, [Graduates] whether that’s targeting varying socio-economic groups, different parts of the UK, or supporting those with less education through more practical onboarding programmes.”

So, a desire for greater diversity and inclusion is leading employers to look outside graduate talent pools. We saw a specific example of this with Kellogg’s UK who in June this year announced that they have removed requirements for job applicants at their HQ to have a degree to make them a more ‘inclusive’ employer.

Apparently, in 2022 they trialled hiring sales staff without degrees, and it was such a success they are rolling it out across the business.

Chris Silcock Kelloggs UK MD said:

“At Kellogg we believe everyone should have a place at the table and by ditching the need to have a degree we hope more people from different backgrounds will consider Kellogg as somewhere for their career, not just those who went to university.”

Are degrees properly preparing graduates for the workplace?

Also, recent research from tech start-up multiverse suggests that 70% of senior people managers believe that the current higher education system is failing to give students the skills they need to thrive in the modern workplace.

Could this perceived lack of workplace readiness of modern graduates be contributing to corporate disillusionment with degree qualifications?

Qualification-blind recruitment is further diminishing the the value of a degree

We are seeing the emergence of the new phenomenon of qualification-blind recruitment which is further diminishing the value of a degree in hiring.

33% of HR professionals are planning to adopt qualification-blind recruitment in the future, while at the same time placing greater reliance on skills-based recruitment and apprenticeships. Degrees will simply be excluded from some selection processes.

This is not about degree-bashing; education is a good thing

We are not here to bash degrees, as education is a good thing and half of employers still rely on degrees for graduate-level job applications, so they remain important.

But as HR professionals and people managers, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that the industry at large does not attach as much importance to them as it once did. 

There is a growing belief that to build a more diverse, adaptable, and effective organisation, employers will need to recruit heavily from outside the orthodox graduate box to draw in a broader and more diverse set of skills and qualities.