Twenty years ago, if you didn’t want to go broke after paying the bills, you were encouraged to pursue a college degree. Until recently, nearly all college graduates earned significantly higher salaries than people without degrees. Having a degree made you more valuable to employers than those without degrees.
Fifteen years ago, you could get a job without a degree as long as you could prove your skills. While it was possible to get a job based on skills alone and bypass degree requirements, it wasn’t easy.
Today, things are different. Businesses not only look for candidates with skills over degrees, but they’re removing degree requirements entirely. Apple, Google, and Netflix, for example, don’t require 4-year degrees. Instead, they hire people with the skills to get the job done. These companies recognize that a four-year degree doesn’t make a candidate a better choice than someone with equal skills and no degree.
The old thinking was that obtaining a degree meant a person was ready for their career. How else could a person learn career-specific skills other than going through a degree program? That was before the internet made it possible for anyone to learn virtually anything from experts in any field.
Ultimately, skills qualify a person for a job, not a piece of paper. In most professions, skills can be developed outside of a degree program. However, there are exceptions.
When degrees and certifications are legitimately required
To work in some professions, you must have a degree without exception. These professions include psychiatry, medicine, chiropractic, and nursing. Working in these fields requires specialized training and knowledge only provided by accredited organizations and it’s illegal to practice in these fields without proper certification.
While anyone can learn marketing skills online, in the medical field, obtaining a degree is the only way to acquire the skills you need. You can’t learn how to be a brain surgeon on YouTube. Even if you could, it would be illegal for you to practice what you’ve learned.
Sometimes certifications are the best way to acquire skills
Some professions are difficult to learn online, even though a degree or certification isn’t required. For instance, some areas within the medical field don’t require certification, but taking a course to earn a certification is the best way to learn the necessary skills. For example, you’ll have a better chance at getting hired after earning a diploma as a medical office administrator than if you tried to teach yourself. The skills required to support a medical office involve things like data entry, processing insurance payments, and patient privacy. You really need to learn these skills hands-on.
Removing degree requirements makes sense
Even before businesses ceased requiring 4-year degrees, there was a gap in the number of employees who held those degrees. In other words, businesses have been hiring people without degrees for a long time and many are finally removing the requirement.
Businesses are learning that defining employability by a 4-year degree hurts them. While degree-holders command an 11-30% wage premium, they fail to justify a higher wage in terms of productivity and outcome.
The fact that degrees don’t guarantee skills doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue a degree. It just means you need to pursue degrees that will give you the right skills.
Pursue certifications that will give you the skills you need
If you’re the independent type who loves learning online, consider supplementing your knowledge by pursuing a degree or certification. Don’t do it for the piece of paper, but rather, the skills you’ll learn during the course. For instance, when you find a course, review the syllabus to find out what you’ll be learning. If those skills will make you more valuable to your future employers, that’s the course you should take. The certification or degree will just be icing on the cake.
Unless a degree is the only way to obtain necessary skills, most companies prioritize skills over a degree.