The next era of work will be about skills–not pedigree. Here’s how employers are changing the way they judge potential, according to LinkedIn and Jobs for the Future
For decades now, companies have measured candidates largely by their degrees, years of experience, and other pedigree signals as filters to determine who to hire and promote.
However, the cracks in this model are becoming more apparent by the day: 61% of the U.S. business leaders LinkedIn recently surveyed say it’s challenging to attract top talent right now–and studies suggest that traditional signals such as specific years of experience are flawed predictors of someone’s ability to do a job well.
For companies who say it’s a tough environment to find the right talent, the math behind this approach shows why: Over 70% of jobs require degrees–but less than 50% of the U.S. workforce hold a bachelor’s degree. The talent pools shrink even further when employers screen candidates to recruit from a small pool of elite universities and top companies.
Against this backdrop, there’s a massive shift underway that’s steadily moving the labor market from a pedigree-based model to a skills-first model. Employers on LinkedIn are already making this shift, with roughly one in four job postings (24%) in the U.S. no longer requiring degrees, up from 15% in 2020. HR teams are also increasingly relying on skills as the key filter through which to evaluate a candidate’s ability and potential on LinkedIn, with over 40% now explicitly using skills data to fill their roles.
That sustained momentum suggests it’s no longer a question of if or when–but really a matter of how we collectively take the next steps now to make a skills-first approach a shared reality across all corners of the labor market.
The conversation is getting louder
Small conversations can often spark great change–and the same is true when it comes to our workplaces.
From remote and hybrid working to “quiet quitting” and the “Great Reshuffle”, the pandemic era has ushered in a new wave of workplace conversations that rapidly became new workplace norms. Many of those conversations take place on LinkedIn–where over 850 million members and 60 million companies are regularly discussing all things related to work.
Among all the chatter, there’s been a clear uptick when we look at the volume of feed posts about skills-first talent approaches. We saw the average number of conversations mentioning these topics roughly double over the course of the year from October 2021 to October 2022.
The ongoing discussion on LinkedIn isn’t limited to HR professionals. Leading executives from a range of industries are also weighing in on the debate. Nielsen’s CEO pointed out, “I have begun to wonder why a college degree is a job requirement for so many roles.” Delta’s CEO gave up his page for a takeover to highlight how skills-based career pathways can help close the opportunity gap for Black talent. And LinkedIn’s own CEO is taking to his page to call on other employers to start recognizing and rewarding workers who don’t have degrees–half of the U.S. workforce.
However, recent findings from Jobs For the Future (JFF) show that there’s still a wide gap between employers’ desire to tackle this issue and their confidence levels in actually executing a new skills-first strategy. Some 80% of employers believe in prioritizing skills over degrees–but the majority (52%) say they are still hiring from degree programs because it feels less risky.
Businesses can start right now
The good news? There are working models and playbooks already in place–and companies can go beyond conversations to achieve concrete change. This doesn’t have to be a “risky” bet.
JFF partners with leading employers and large skills-based talent efforts such as the Business Roundtable’s Multiple Pathways Initiative to enact a skills-based talent agenda. They found that the companies that do this well usually get started with a straightforward formula.
First, they make it a CEO-level priority, set goals, and measure progress. Second, they start somewhere–anywhere. They don’t try to change the whole enterprise all at once. Rather, they zero in on one department or one practice and begin there. Third, they expand beyond skills-based hiring to include a skills-based approach to training and internal mobility. In time, these companies reap the rewards. The skills-based approach spreads across the enterprise and becomes embedded in the culture, day-to-day systems, and values of the company.
Taking some of these steps is not only a sound business strategy that expands your talent pipelines, but it can also lead to more equitable outcomes for populations of overlooked workers who may have the relevant skills, including 76% of Black workers and 83% of Latinx workers who currently don’t hold a four-year degree.
Early findings from LinkedIn’s new skills-first hiring tools show that adding more skills qualification transparency encourages more women, who typically set a higher self-qualification bar, to apply to jobs they may not have otherwise.
While it’s promising to see more companies having this conversation and asking the right questions, deliberate attention and measurement will be necessary to make sure these changes are having a positive and equitable impact.
Change won’t happen overnight. Paradigm shifts never do. However, it’s clear that doing something truly world-changing–building a labor market that is more efficient and equitable than ever before–is actually possible in our lifetime.
The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.
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