The Bachelor’s Degree Becomes the New High School Degree

Over the course of nearly three decades, Americans’ ideas surrounding education, occupation, and the relationship between the two have undergone a major shift. The desire for knowledge and skills – as a way to both prepare and qualify for increasingly demanding jobs – resulted in the pursuit of higher education. The change in educational attainment of the labor force between 1992 and 2016 reflects these changing ideas: the percentage possessing only high school degrees dropped by almost 10%, while the percentage of bachelor’s degree recipients grew by an impressive 7%.

Eventually, a bachelor’s degree became an expectation for millions of high school students and a necessary qualification for many careers. Many employers in fields such as business, finance, and STEM require their employees to have graduated from a four-year university.

Student Debt, Entrepreneurship, & the Fall of the Bachelor’s Degree

The belief in college education as the primary means of preparing for a career has become standard in the US among both employers and employees. This stance, however, is changing rapidly thanks to Gen Z. Members of this generation, the first of whom were born in 1997, are placing significantly less emphasis on the value of post high-school degrees.  Their fear of student debt, combined with their diminishing faith in the value of a college education, is driving them away from college campuses. 

According to Forbes, student debt was $1.52 trillion in 2018 alone, and graduates of the class of 2016 owe an average of $37,172 in student loans. Having witnessed Millennials’ struggles to climb out of crippling debt, Gen Zers are wary of college and the costs associated with it. In fact, only 11% said they would be willing to go into debt in order to pursue college.

In addition to the possibility of student loans, Gen Zers are rejecting college because of their belief in the validity of alternative learning environments, such as entrepreneurship, over a bachelor’s degree. 75% believe that there are strong and viable educational opportunities outside of attending college. Despite the fact that they are twenty-two years old or younger, Forbes reports that 13% are entrepreneurs with their own businesses.

 

Recruitment in the Gen Z Era

Both Gen Z’s penchant for entrepreneurship and unwillingness to incur student loan debt mean major changes for employers. In order to adapt to the Gen Z-fueled changes in the candidate pool, employers must make two critical adjustments to their recruitment processes.

First, their expectations and requirements for potential employees must be modified. They should assess candidates using alternative measures, placing less emphasis on level or quality of education. Job-specific assessments, such as Pymetrics and Code Signal, test “candidates using real-world tasks that simulate on-the-job performance.” Other options include cognitive ability and problem-solving tests, which examine individuals’ abilities to pick up novel information and apply it efficiently to their work, as well as work samples or simulations. 

Employers must also make an effort to attract and accommodate past or failed entrepreneurs. At most, Forbes estimates that 10% of entrepreneurs will succeed in creating and sustaining their own businesses, meaning that 90% of these entrepreneurially-minded individuals will be looking for work. Ways to appeal to this type of candidate include:

  • Grant them freedom and autonomy in the workplace. They are used to being their own bosses and do not want to be micromanaged.
  • Challenge them. Avoid allocating busy work to past entrepreneurs, even if they’re young.
  • Integrate technology. Gen Zers have grown up in a digital world, and many Gen Z entrepreneurs either operated within the tech industry or leveraged their tech literacy to create, promote, and maintain their businesses.

While making these changes to the candidate recruitment process is a great first step, it is an inadequate solution if candidates are not made aware of them. Rewriting job descriptions to highlight flexibility in educational level and independence in the workplace, utilizing social media, and even incorporating elements such as video on career sites are hugely beneficial in recruiting Gen Z in this job market.  With a historically low unemployment rate, candidates currently and will continue to have their pick of employer. By meeting them halfway, employers can optimize their acquisition of talented, creative Gen Zers. 

 

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