In a speech bubble on a yellow background reads text that says Sounds like you've got a Masters degree in lived experience

Are degrees still relevant?

We might argue, not always.

Job-posting data shows that between 2012-2022 companies in Canada reduced university degree requirements by 13%.

Imagine if more companies rated candidates based on talent and skills rather than solely on academic qualifications. Well, they’re starting to.

Companies like Apple and IBM no longer require a college degree for an interview. They’re placing greater value on mindsets, abilities, and skills gained from life experience. They found that requiring diplomas significantly reduced the talent pool, leaving great candidates out of the hiring process before it even started.

We aren’t saying post-secondary education isn’t valuable. It absolutely is – particularly if you’re pursuing a career that requires a license to practice. What we are saying is that lived experience is also incredibly valuable, and in certain contexts, it can be the factor that makes a candidate the most qualified for an opportunity.

After becoming established in 2022, GEO Nova Scotia (Getting Everyone Online) was ready to hire Digital Inclusion Facilitators to support low-income Nova Scotians with gaining access to affordable internet, devices, and the skills to use them.

The ideal candidates came with a breadth of experience that made them the most qualified for the job (a Master’s degree in lived experience, if you will). One of them was Othell Downey.

“I grew up in one of the largest Black communities, North Preston,” says Othell, Digital Inclusion Facilitator at GEO NS since October 2022. “I have broken bones here, a history of adventures, as we build this community and see it more as a country than a town.”

He continues, “I always tinkered with technology. I’ve designed and built video games. I’ve spent time assisting with studio and recording equipment and I’ve even dabbled in being a DJ for a bit. These are just fancy ways of saying I was the tech kid growing up. Tech wasn’t always readily available or easily adopted into the household. I was frequently asked (and more related to tech): “Hey, can you help me?” and I was always up to it. Even when I didn’t really know what to do, I went with my intuition”.

Through life experience and self-determination , Othell garnered the skills necessary to become a sought-after tech expert.

It’s important for hiring managers to be aware that the talent a company needs may not always be backed by a degree.

And that requiring higher education, when it’s not necessary for the requirements of the role, can leave some of the most qualified candidates out of the running.

When you expand the range of what it means to be qualified to include alternative training or life experience, you create more equitable access to an opportunity.

Those of us from equity-deserving groups who typically face societally-imposed barriers to obtaining post-secondary credentials can be recognized more broadly for what makes us eligible.

Johane Alexis-Phanor speaks to the implication of trust and openness for someone to be, evolve and grow. They shared in a recent article that “qualified candidates are not born; they are created. The candidate just needs to have the basics and the organization needs to believe that the candidate is capable enough to learn on the job.

Everyone has infinite power that at times can be suppressed as a result of systemic barriers (pulled from our Impact Framework for Showing Up). What if we worked to move boulders out of the way and make tools, guidance and support accessible – so people can step into their own power and potential?

Employers can…

Move boulders out of the way by:

  • When possible, being open to and encouraging applications from those who have taken alternative training programs or possess a relevant amount of related experience. This requires humility to acknowledge that differences in lived experience are valuable. In a job ad, this can sound like: “Some post-secondary education or equivalent training and experience,” or something as simple as “strong digital skills and experience working in teams.”
  • Asking skills-based and ‘experience-related’ interview questions, emphasizing that the experience a candidate chooses to speak to, can fall outside the workplace setting. Coaching or playing on sports teams can demonstrate strong leadership and collaboration skills. Advocating and collaborating with the municipal government to simply clean up a park near your house speaks to strengths in negotiation and community service.
  • Acknowledging that self-taught people bring a whole new level of passion and drive to an organization – often initiating work, innovating current products and services, and offering outside-the-box solutions to company problems.
  • Removing the need for credentials to be eligible for a job or promotion helps qualified self-taught employees grow in your organization. 

Make tools, guidance and support accessible by:

  • Ensuring people have what they need to thrive in their roles. One size doesn’t fit all. This means approaching individual employee needs with personalized solutions is necessary. Think of it like Naheed Dosani:“#Equality is giving everyone a shoe. #Equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits.” The ability to thrive requires different shoes for different people.
  • Making sponsors or mentors (both within and outside your organization) available to support new hires that have been systemically disadvantaged in your workplace. 

Interested in our approach to hiring? Connect with one of our Placemakers today, or learn more about our socially conscious recruitment services here.

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