Pennsylvania Scraps College Degree Job Requirement

On Jan. 18, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro signed an executive order titled “Creating Opportunities by Prioritizing Work Experience for State Government Jobs.” In doing so, the Keystone State became the latest state to abolish the requirement of college degrees for most of its government positions.

The order, which took effect immediately and is expected to impact roughly 65,000 jobs — which account for 92% of all state roles — explains that in “the modern labor market, applicants gain knowledge, skills, and abilities through a variety of means, including apprenticeships, on-the-job training, military training, and trade schools.” 

It adds that “modernizing the Commonwealth’s hiring model to a model focused on skill, competency, and practical experience, rather than just educational background, will offer new opportunities for all Pennsylvanians to succeed professionally.”

Furthermore, the state plans to audit the 8% of government jobs that continue to require applicants to have a college degree to determine the validity of such criteria for employment.

“I don’t care if you have a four year degree on your wall or not,” Shapiro tweeted. “If you’re qualified for the job, you deserve the job.”

Pennsylvania’s move comes at the heels of Utah’s own decision last month to eliminate bachelor’s degrees as requirements for most government jobs. “Degrees have become a blanketed barrier-to-entry in too many jobs,” Utah’s Governor Spencer Cox said. “Instead of focusing on demonstrated competence, the focus too often has been on a piece of paper. We are changing that.”

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Both states have followed in the footsteps of Maryland, which last March became the first state to officially ditch four-year degrees as requisites for state roles. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said at the time, ​​”It is more important than ever that we work together to find new ways to build a steady pipeline of talented, well-trained skilled workers for the jobs of the future. That means pursuing bold, innovative ideas and being committed to leaving no skilled workers behind.”

It’s too soon to tell if deprioritizing college education for state jobs will turn into a wider trend. However, companies have for some time been increasingly dropping degrees as requirements for many roles. In fact, recent research by The Burning Glass Institute found that employers “are resetting degree requirements in a wide range of roles, dropping the requirement for a bachelor’s degree in many middle-skill and even some higher-skill roles.”

In the Institute’s paper “The Emerging Degree Reset,” researchers point out that about 46% of middle-skill and 31% of high-skill occupations experienced “material degree resets” between 2017 and 2019. And sure enough, Google, Bank of America, and Accenture, General Motors, and IBM are just a few of the growing number of organizations that have been intentionally downplaying higher education in their hiring process.

With the public sector embracing the practice more and and more, it’s likely that even more job applicants will gain greater access to employment opportunities in the coming months and years.

Vadim Liberman is editor of ERE.net and a workplace renegade advancing how we think, work, and live. He has previously worked as a strategy consultant to HR and recruiting tech companies at The Starr Conspiracy, as a talent management professional at Prudential, and as senior editor of The Conference Board Review, a magazine for business leaders. Vadim loves to talk about all things HR, talent acquisition, and Bravo TV shows. 

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