Over the past two decades, workers without a four-year college education have lost ground in jobs that used to be a ladder to middle-class life for them and their families.
Although this trend was well known, it was difficult to put the number of job losses at an intermediate stage. Such workers have been fired from 7.4 million jobs since 2000, according to a new study released Friday.
The study points to a persistent problem for nearly two-thirds of US workers who do not have a four-year college education, even as some employers have waived the requirement in recent years.
“These workers have been fired from millions of specific jobs that offer them promotions,” said Papia Debroy, head of research at [email protected], the nonprofit that published the study. “This is a huge loss for the workers and their families.”
[email protected] is part of an emerging coalition of groups that are committed to changing the culture of hiring and promotion in corporate America. They are trying to encourage the transition to hiring and career development based on people’s skills, not degrees.
Part of this effort is the creation of a body of research that highlights the problem as well as the untapped potential of workers.
The team’s researchers analyzed employment trends in a variety of occupations. Jobs included business managers, nurses, software developers, sales executives, financial analysts, purchasing agents, industrial engineers, and administrative assistants.
If workers without a college degree had kept their share of the jobs they held in 2000, there would be 7.4 million more by the end of 2019, the study says.
Previous research conducted by [email protected] in collaboration with academic researchers analyzed skills in various occupations and found that up to 30 million workers have the skills to actually move to a new job that pays, on average, 70 percent more than their current one.
Some large companies have begun to adjust their hiring requirements. Rework America Business Network, an initiative of the Markle Foundation, has pledged to bring skills-based hiring to many jobs. Companies in the group include Aon, Boeing, McKinsey, Microsoft and Walmart.
OneTen, a non-profit organization, has raised commitments from dozens of companies to reach the goal of hiring or promoting one million black workers with no college education into jobs with family-supporting incomes over the next decade. Companies include Accenture, AT&T, Bank of America, Caterpillar, Delta Air Lines, IBM, JPMorgan Chase, Merck, Target and Wells Fargo.
The desire to increase the diversity of the workforce is one of the motives for change. College screening hits minorities especially hard, excluding 76 percent of black adults and 83 percent of Hispanic adults.
But companies and labor experts are also highlighting the competitive and economic benefits of employing a wider pool of capable workers.
“The country as a whole will benefit from human capital not being left behind,” said Erika Groshen, an economist at Cornell University and former head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Evidence has recently emerged that a pandemic shortage of workers may prompt companies to loosen degree requirements. A study published this month by Keith Wardrip, a Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank researcher, compared online job listings five quarters before Covid hit and five quarters after.
During the pandemic, another 2.3 million ads were posted for what he classified as jobs with job opportunities — ones that pay more than the $36,660 national median wage and are available to workers without four years of college education.
Much of the increase was due to higher demand from companies that were short of workers as many people left the labor market for health, family or personal reasons. But Mr. Wardrip found that 38 percent of the increase was due to lower education requirements for some occupations.
Large companies that have moved to skills-based hiring in recent years say the move has given them a stronger and more diverse workforce.
A few years ago, Wells Fargo reviewed its hiring and career development practices as part of a broader review. At that time, recalls Carly Sanchez, executive vice president of hiring and recruiting, the question arose: “Are we removing some of the best talent?”
The bank decided that this was the case and changed its practice. Today, more than 90 percent of jobs at Wells Fargo do not require four years of education, “almost the exact opposite for us” from five years earlier, Ms. Sanchez said.
Accenture launched an apprenticeship program in 2016. What started as a small corporate citizenship initiative of less than 20 students has become an important part of recruiting and hiring a technology consulting and services company.
Accenture this week announced its goal to fill 20 percent of its entry-level vacancies in America through an apprenticeship program in the current fiscal year ending in August. This year the company plans to recruit 800 students.
The company said the apprentices they hired excelled in performance and retention. They often bring skills and traits from past jobs or military service, such as teamwork, communication, persistence, and curiosity—so-called soft skills that are important to clients on technology projects.
In the transition to skills-based hiring, [email protected] and other groups refer to such workers as STAR for skilled alternative routes. The term is intended to emphasize the skills that the majority of American workers have acquired, rather than the degree they lack.
Accenture’s apprenticeship program began with training people to work in back office technical support, but it has become a path to highly skilled technicians working on client projects, said Jimmy Etheridge, chief executive of Accenture North America.
“I was surprised at how far the tech apprenticeship program has come,” he said. “I didn’t think it would get as big as it is now.”
After completing a year-long internship program, 28-year-old Del Walker from Chicago became an Accenture full-time employee in 2020. Ms. Walker, like 80 percent of those who completed the program, does not have a college degree. But she has held a number of positions, completed a course at a local college in nursing and information technology, and is an alumnus of Year Up, a national non-profit vocational training program.
Ms. Walker currently works as a software development analyst working with software development teams and clients of Accenture, recently a major fast food company. She has mastered technical skills, such as basic programming and software testing techniques, and improves them both at work and by taking online courses on her own.
“If a new skill set comes up, I learn it,” said Ms. Walker, whose goal is to become a software engineer at Accenture.
Ms. Walker declined to say how much she earns, but her circumstances have definitely changed. “Now I can buy things,” she said. “If I want to buy an expensive handbag, I can.”