College degree requirements in job postings are slowly, but surely, becoming a thing of the past

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The skills-first revolution is well underway—even if it feels like a slow burn.

According to a new report from job site Indeed, the share of job listings that don’t mention any educational requirements grew from 48% in 2019 to 52% in January 2024. Further, the share of U.S. job postings that require a college degree fell from 20.4% to 17.8%.

To be sure, that’s a pretty modest change, but it’s a slow, sure descent. Mentions of college degrees are down in 41 of the 47 (87%) job sectors Indeed analyzed.

Overall, half of job listings on Indeed don’t have any education requirements at all. “Requirements are just disappearing altogether,” Cory Stahle, an economist at Indeed, tells Fortune.

That 4% isn’t a huge number, Stahle acknowledges, but it represents the gradual trend that’s built up over the last decade.

“Instead of asking what percent of jobs at any given time requires a degree, we made sure we were weighing everything to control for changes in the labor market over time,” Stahle explains. “It’s in line with our earlier research, and we expect it to continue going forward.” That’s mainly due to an array of “demographic headwinds” currently in play, namely an aging population, which will lead to fewer workers in the labor market in the coming years.

“From an economic perspective, there’s a lot of incentive for employers to extend their pool of workers to include workers without a bachelor’s degree,” Stahle says.

Formal educational requirements are unlikely to disappear entirely from job postings, especially in areas like healthcare and engineering, which necessitate more specialized skills, but the jobs that could be learned during an extended onboarding are likely to prioritize potential over pedigree.

The findings are encouraging to Indeed’s VP of social impact, Abbey Carlton. Compulsory degrees “keep thousands and thousands of otherwise qualified job seekers from applying for these roles, especially those who may not have had equal access to college,” she wrote. “Having inflated degree requirements perpetuates the cycle of inequities in the workforce,” and nixing requirements, while a “critical first step to fixing the broken hiring system” must be followed by “meaningful change.”

Skills-first hiring, naturally, removes barriers from job seekers: namely the two-thirds of Americans without a four-year degree. But it also benefits companies. “By removing proxies like a college degree or arbitrary number of years of experience from job postings,” Carlton wrote, firms “open themselves up” to a larger candidate pool full of qualified individuals.

Different sectors have always given degrees with varying levels of sway. In engineering roles, Indeed found, having gone to college is essentially indispensable, while fewer than 1% of more manual job listings (such as for sanitation roles, food preparation, and trucking) require degrees.  But it’s the former—the historically staunchly pro-degree jobs—that have loosened their rules the most over the past five years. Project-management jobs, information design, and software-development jobs shedded their degree requirements at the highest rate—between 8 and 10% since 2019.

Then there’s the question of generative AI’s impact, which has long threatened to snap up jobs that could be feasibly done without having to pay a human to do them. How might the growing prominence of AI impact skills-based hiring? Well, mostly, it will stand to greatly improve the job prospects of those who can use it best.

“It is also possible that GenAI may transform skill requirements and hiring practices, thus feeding into the trend of declining educational requirements and potentially unlocking new opportunities for the majority of adults without a college degree,” Indeed's report reads. “Either way, embracing and developing skills, including learning and utilizing AI technologies, is likely to be important for all workers in the coming years, but may be even more vital for those whose jobs are primarily knowledge-based.”

Every job has some level of exposure to generative AI, Stahle tells Fortune. “But every job also has certain skills that are innately human and gen AI couldn’t do.” Then of course are the human jobs—like prompt engineer—that have cropped up in response to the AI boom and command high six-figure salaries and lasting relevance.

“Just overall what was really interesting to me was seeing how widespread this trend is,” Stahle said. “You can see this happening in jobs with high barriers to entry, and in the sectors with low barriers, those barriers are falling even further.”

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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