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US legislation advocates end to bias in degrees over skills in hiring for jobs



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The United Stated adopted a legislation early this year which advocates for fair consideration of employees without bachelor’s degrees but rather skills, in the hiring processes.

The Bill seeks to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act, ensuring that job applicants lacking bachelor’s degrees are not automatically dismissed by automated screening systems.

Also, it states that alternative experiences like military service, community college, or training programs would be considered.

Experts note that automation in recruiting technology has led to an increase in educational criteria as filters, despite roughly two-thirds of U.S. workers lacking a bachelor’s degree.

The legislation therefore aims to mitigate bias against skilled individuals without degrees, supporting equitable job opportunities and diversity efforts.

Democrat representative Raja Krishnamoorthi from Illinois, and Republican John James from Michigan, had introduced the Opportunity to Compete Act in October 2023.

Since then, two Democrats and two Republicans have joined as co-sponsors, underscoring bipartisan interest in skills-based hiring.

Importance of evaluating candidates on relevant skills rather than degrees

Large organizations utilizing automated degree requirement settings would therefore need to disclose expected years of experience and allow applicants to substitute experience for a four-year degree.

Representative Krishnamoorthi emphasized the importance of evaluating candidates based on relevant skills and experience rather than solely on possessing a four-year degree.

She said,

  • “As workers and employers seek to meet the rapidly changing needs of the 21st century, it is imperative that we eliminate discrimination against workers who meet every qualification for the jobs for which they are applying except for having a bachelor’s degree.
  • “The Opportunity to Compete Act will address this issue by ensuring prospective employees are evaluated based on whether they have the relevant skills and experience to do the job rather than whether they have a four-year degree.”

In a similar vein, Blair Corcoran de Castillo from Opportunity@Work highlights the significance of the bill for millions of workers who bring valuable skills through alternative educational routes.

He said:

  • The Bill is especially important for workers in this country who … bring valuable skills to our economy from experience in community college, apprenticeships, bootcamps and, most commonly, through skills gained on the job, instead of through a bachelor’s degree.”

Sims said that these alternative educational routes provide accessible and affordable means for people outside of traditional talent pools to build skills for many nonspecialized early and midcareer roles.

  • These programs can also offer focused training and support for specific in-demand jobs, potentially giving them a leg up on candidates with four-year degrees because they have honed specific skills for specific jobs.
  • “Roles such as digital marketing, application development and customer service may not need a broader academic degree.”

Michelle Sims, CEO of YUPRO Placement, underscores the importance of these alternative paths in providing accessible and focused training for in-demand jobs, promoting equitable access to employment opportunities.

Sims said that the proposal addresses the false assumption that degrees are a proxy for skills which is

  • “…. a dangerous and damaging practice that reduces the number and quality of job matches.
  • “The bill supports equitable job opportunity access and supports diversity and inclusion efforts as well.”

What this means for the education sector and recruitment in Nigeria

If the US Bill takes effect, this could trigger more legislations across countries in the adoption of placing value over skills rather than university degrees, and Nigeria would not be an exception.

This could also make Nigerian talent exports without university degrees more marketable for countries offshoring employees.

This underscores the proposal earlier stated by Prof. Idris Bugaje, the Executive Secretary of the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), who advocated making 50 per cent skills acquisition, mandatory for all secondary school students to ensure a skilled labour force and more opportunities for Nigerians.

Nairametrics reported that he emphasized the importance of revitalizing Technical Education and Vocational Training (TVET) at the secondary school level and highlighted the significance of early exposure to skills development for students, stating that it would aid in identifying and nurturing talents that can lead to profitable enterprises.

According to Prof. Bugaje, the approach aims to assist students in gaining a deeper understanding of their interests and capabilities, enhancing decision-making skills, and ultimately contributing to their personal and professional growth.

Bugaje elaborated on the need for skills acquisition, emphasizing the importance of a dual system akin to Germany’s approach. He mentioned that in Nigeria, many tertiary institution graduates struggle to find employment due to a lack of industry-fit skills.

Therefore, he suggested a shift in the education system’s focus, proposing that 50% of secondary school leavers pursue skills training in polytechnics, with the remainder split between universities and Colleges of Education (COEs). Bugaje added that this change would help position polytechnics to produce experts capable of contributing to national projects.

He expressed concern over the country’s reliance on foreign technicians for various projects despite having skilled individuals domestically. Bugaje advocated for giving local talent opportunities, to combat unemployment and foster national growth.


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