“Upcredentialing”: Jobs Report Shows Limited Career Options for Workers Without a Bachelor’s Degree

Posted By Terri Williams on May 20, 2015 at 3:09 pm
“Upcredentialing”: Jobs Report Shows Limited Career Options for Workers Without a Bachelor’s Degree

“Upcredentialing” may not be a familiar term among the general public, but it’s becoming a standard practice among employers. According to a recent study by Boston-based analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies, many employers now prefer a bachelor’s degree – even for jobs that previously required only a high school diploma or an associate degree.

Burning Glass compiled millions of daily job postings from over 40,000 websites, analyzing each employer’s requirements. The company then compared employers’ educational requirements with those in the 2011 and 2012 American Community Survey Standard Occupational Codes. The study revealed significant gaps between the educational level of current job holders, and employers’ expectations for their future employees.

Below are a few examples that demonstrate the difference between current and future workers in several fields:

The good news? This shift is raising salaries – at least for college graduates. However, the demand for a more educated workforce may also make it harder for employers to fill open positions.

For example, it now takes 20% longer (38.5 days vs. 32 days) to fill mechanic/installation/repair supervisor positions that require a bachelor’s degree. Computer user support specialists jobs are open 40% longer (27.14 days to 37.88 days).

What’s fueling the trend?

GoodCall asked Richard Vedder, Distinguished Professor of Economics Emeritus at Ohio University and Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, an independent research center, what’s fueling this “upcredentialing” trend.

“Employers are increasing the educational qualifications for jobs beyond traditional norms for a simple reason: they can,” says Vedder.  He explains that the number of recent college graduates far exceeds the number of job openings that college graduates have traditionally filled – jobs predominantly in the technical (e.g., STEM disciplines), managerial, or professional areas (designed for college grads with advanced degrees).

“Suppose a firm advertises for a position as a secretary to an executive, and gets 30 applicants, 12 with a college degree. It is costly and time consuming to sift through 30 applications, so the firm narrows the search to the 12 degree-holders. On average, the college degree holders will be better academically trained, have more cognitive skills, and be more disciplined than the high school graduates, so as a screening device the employer declares a degree is required.” In fact, Vedder says he thinks upcredentialing even happens with jobs like bartending.

What it means for job seekers

The credential inflation phenomenon will inevitably adversely impact those with less than a bachelor’s degree. Vedder concludes, “Unemployment rates are sharply higher for those with lesser education, in part because they are crowded out of some jobs by college grads.”

In short, this means that a college education is becoming – and will continue to become – increasingly important when it comes to landing a job. Even entry-level positions in what’s known as middle-skill pathways now require college degrees, making it even harder for those without degrees to break into or advance in their chosen fields. If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s this: going forward, higher education is going to be an even more important asset for students and graduates in a competitive job market.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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