By Claudine Kapel
A recent article in the New York Times drives home a point about jobs and their rising educational requirements that has become conventional wisdom for many.
The article noted the degree is becoming the new high school diploma – “the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job.”
The New York Times noted the phenomenon, referred to as “degree inflation,” has been “steadily infiltrating” the job market in the United States. Quoting research by Burning Glass, which analyzes job ads from online sources, the article notes “across industries and geographic areas, many other jobs that didn’t use to require a diploma – positions like dental hygienists, cargo agents, clerks and claims adjusters – are increasingly requiring one.”
There are numerous factors that have been driving up the educational requirements for jobs. Many jobs, for example, have become more technical over time as a result of technological advances. Other jobs have become more complex as companies diversify their products and services and expand their geographic reach. At the same time, job candidates with diplomas and degrees are more plentiful, making it easier to raise the bar on educational requirements.
While it may be tempting to recruit candidates offering the highest levels of education, that may not be a wise strategy as individuals who are overqualified for their job may not prove easy to engage and retain.
It is generally more fruitful to define educational requirements that can have a meaningful impact on an individual’s ability to perform the duties of a job. It’s important to be able to differentiate between what’s “required” and what’s “nice to have” for a variety of reasons.
To optimally manage human resource functions such as recruiting, staff deployment and compensation, it is important to recognize – and document – when educational requirements for a job have changed.
As a starting point, you should capture the change in the applicable job descriptions or other job documentation. From there, it is important to consider the implications of the change.
Does the new educational requirement change how or where you recruit to fill this type of position or the market rate for the job? Does it change how the job is positioned within the organization’s job hierarchy or base pay structure?
If your organization has a job evaluation process, how does the new educational requirement impact the position’s job evaluation point score? For example, many job evaluation plans allow jobs to be rated on educational requirements that include levels such as “partial high school” and “high school diploma.” How many jobs in your organization have that as the educational requirement today? Is your job documentation up-to-date with respect to educational expectations?
One challenge that can arise from a rising bar around educational requirements is that existing employees may not meet the new educational requirements. An organization can smooth the transition process by indicating that either the level of education or the equivalent in experience in required.
But as certain jobs grow in complexity, it is also possible some existing incumbents may not be able to keep pace with evolving performance expectations. In such cases, the organization may need to take a hard look at both its jobs and its people to define what it will accommodate.
Jobs accountabilities will evolve over time and educational requirement will evolve in tandem. By remaining mindful of these shifts, an organization can ensure it maintains up-to-date job requirements. This will make it easier to make sound decisions around hiring, retaining and compensating talent.
Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a Toronto-based human resources and communications consulting firm specializing in the design and implementation of compensation and total rewards programs. For more information, visit www.kapelandassociates.com.