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Guest Column — Helen Young Hayes Talks Talent Pipeline Disruption

Why do employers still rely on a four-year degree as an indicator of job readiness? Especially in fields where technology rapidly changes, a majority of companies continue to screen candidates by requiring a university education. A computer science degree that includes humanities and general education credits is often required to prove one’s ability to do well in fields like cybersecurity. In fact, up-to-date and rigorous job skills training, technology bootcamps and apprenticeships are not only sufficient, but in many ways are superior.

As employers face critical IT worker shortages and cybersecurity threats become more ominous, employers in tech must embrace these alternative credentialing strategies to broaden their talent pipeline.

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But we need more than just ensuring employers can acquire talent quickly. Traditional hiring, which may overlook those without four-year computer science degrees, leaves out vast segments of our population. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice recently remarked that there are 700,000 vacant cybersecurity jobs, but the current field is made up of less than 25% women, 9% black and 4% Hispanic workers. Fortunately, those numbers are the impetus for the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education and the Cybersecurity Workforce Framework that will help K-12 teachers introduce cyber curricula and resources. But the need is urgent. We must call upon private industry to also recognize the need for technical job preparation outside of a university setting. Or as Rice says, “create new pathways” for those who did not or cannot attend a university.

Importantly, providing a method for advanced technical job skills training for non-college students is a matter of economic equity. People deserve to achieve their fullest potential and pursue economic freedom even without the resources to attend a four-year university. In Colorado, 64% of top jobs require a post-secondary credential, yet only 28% of Blacks and 17% of Hispanics in Colorado attain a bachelor’s degree. According to the Colorado Talent Equity Agenda, Colorado ranks 37th in terms of racial disparities measuring how well the state puts households of color on a pathway to economic prosperity.

Consider a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on income disparity based on college attendance. Families that include at least one wage earner with a bachelor’s degree have nearly 8 times the wealth of families without a college graduate.

Ep Chart 001

If Americans can afford college degrees, they’re rewarded with a better job. But they’re not necessarily coming to those jobs with in-demand skills. According to a Harvard Business School survey, employers perceive that a college degree does not necessarily guarantee higher productivity or faster promotion rates in middle skills jobs. Companies need to hire for skill sets, not sheepskin, and widen access to employment in an equitable way. Job skills training and certifications must be promoted to the populations least likely to attend universities and embraced by the companies that will benefit from skilled technical talent.

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Companies need talent today. In the last decade, 9.8 million jobs were created, and due to new technology and retiring baby boomersthere are more than 35 million jobs waiting to be filled. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, only 36% of those job openings will be available to workers with less than a bachelor’s degree. Short-term credentialing, job skills training, and apprenticeship programs build desired skills and add to the existing talent pool inclusively and efficiently. Companies must embrace and implement programs and credentialing that screen in the skills they want, rather than screen out the workers they need.

In short, it’s time to rethink the education and hiring process so that every member of our society has the ability to learn and earn.


Helenhayes Hs Large

Helen is the founder and CEO of ActivateWork, a nonprofit recruiting, training and coaching firm that connects employers to a diverse pool of exceptional talent.