Should You Quit Hiring College Graduates?

Talent Acquisition

Human Resources thought leaders are debating about whether they should maintain the requirement to have a college degree for every so-called “professional job.” In recent years, driven by a long-term labor shortage that is the result of a demographics shift, employers are reconsidering such must-haves for every role. At the same time, job applicants are reconsidering earning a college degree because of the student debt crisis. It simply costs too much, and graduates are not making up for their investments. 

LaunchCode, provides free education and access to job opportunities to help people launch careers in the tech industry. Started by Jim McKelvey, LaunchCode was his response to the fact that he had to leave his beloved St. Louis and move to Silicon Valley to work. The company makes the argument that this argument in favor of non-traditional hires is about creating more diversity of thought. 

“Most of the world continues to use outdated education models and hiring practices, yet expects more diverse, inventive, and motivated tech talent,” according to the website. “We believe in hiring differently.” 

Recently, HR Exchange Network talked to Mike Northrop, Managing Director of Company Relations at LaunchCode, made the case for “hiring differently.” 

HREN: How do you begin to make the argument that college degrees should not be required?

MN: Gradually the mindset has changed. It was very hard to go to small, medium, or a large company partner of ours, and say, ‘Hey, I need you to think and hire differently.’ And they’re going to put up a wall and say, ‘I need two degrees here. Here are the checkboxes I need.’

I came from a company that was like that. They would say, ‘We’re looking for experience with this, this, and this.’ And I would respond, ‘Well, what about if I can train somebody who has no no skills but can communicate?’ So, I challenged them. Let’s think outside the box. There are people who can do this. They just need a little bit of coaching or guidance.

We have a great apprenticeship program for junior tech talent with transferable skills. I just think of some of the folks I’ve placed who were waiters, somebody who was at a grocery store, somebody who worked in retail. They have been promoted three or four times, and they’re mid- and senior-level developers, who would have never had that chance had we not pushed the thinking differently [mentality]. And it’s not easy. It’s still hard to get people to think and hire differently. Companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Boeing don’t require degrees all the time. Still, it’s a fight. I’d still like to see more of that. It’s still a challenge, but it’s a challenge worth hitting.

HREN: What do you think is going to push all these HR leaders, who watch our programming and read our content, to hire without requiring a college degree?

MN: I think it’s the mentality shift, right? When you see Google, Microsoft, and Apple throw it out there in the news or on LinkedIn, that’s awesome. When you get a spotlight, you have to go in and widen that thing. There are so many people who didn’t have the traditional path of education and are forgotten. Graduating high school and then going right to get a college degree is not that easy. It’s a lot of money, way too much money. And what’s wrong with a trade?

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I’m not saying a college degree is a bad path, but why not have a wider lens into hiring people? Sure, you need some college grads, but you also need some people with some life smarts.

I come from a corporate role that I learned a lot from. I feel good about what I’m doing here because I hired differently. I thought outside the box. I didn’t want a bunch of [people like] me. I think we have to educate folks to be the same way. Think outside the box, stop checking boxes off a sheet of paper. I know, there are so many people in this country who didn’t get to take the traditional path. Why not try somebody? I mean, worst case scenario is it doesn’t work. But what if it does?

HREN: What has been the biggest pushback that you’ve gotten for breaking with tradition and hiring those without college degrees?

MN: I’ve had a lot of leaders and managers tell me, ‘That’s just what we’re told to do.’ Another is ‘It’s always been that way.’ Times are changing. We think of trade school and we think of an ironworker. You don’t think of tech. And so I think there needs to be more of that, right? There needs to be more of the, ‘Hey, why can’t we take non-traditional talent from different avenues? Different walks of life, right?’ And that’s the challenge.

I would be lying to you if I told you that it’s not hard because I’ve had the door slammed in my face several times. I have very thick skin because you must fight for those who are going through this program. I’m a firm believer in what we do. When they graduate, it’s my responsibility, my team’s responsibility, to fight the old school mentality. So, it’s a it’s a daily fight.

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HREN: Do you have stories you can can share or the employers who have hired those from your program?

MN: Boeing, MasterCard, and Charter are among the big ones. There’s Blue Stingray and Sherpa. They’ll listen to the story and be open minded to it. We’re always trying to get new companies, and that’s why we never stop. I just got a new company a week ago.

One of the participant’s stories that I think about will make you cry. If you have a dry eye, there’s something wrong. But I just remember one person I placed was nervous. She had some struggles. She had kids. Kids can get sick, and you miss class. There were times she missed some classes, but she made up for it. She was working a part-time job on top of a full-time job and doing this. You do what you have to do to take care of your family.

She had gotten a few interviews. I’d coach her on telling her story. I told her, ‘Just do me a favor. Tell your story. Then, talk about what you’ve learned.’ I got a phone call, and she said, ‘I did really well. I took your advice. I just told them why I did this and why I’d be good at the job.’

The next morning, the company called to say, ‘It was one of the best interviews I’ve ever had.’

I called and said to her, ‘You want to hear this? And she was crying. No way! No way! No way!’ And I replied, ‘Yes, yes!’ She said she owed me, and I said, ‘You owe me nothing.’ You owe me to start working and rock this apprenticeship, so you become a full-timer here.’ (She was a contract worker at first.) And I said, ‘Then, I will ask you to tell these people to think and hire differently and call Mike.’ We met up for lunch, probably within two, three weeks of starting that job. She told me she almost quit going through the program because she kept having these hiccups.

We checked in with the company two or three months later. They said she was wonderful. That’s what you want. You want success. I’ll never forget. Very quickly after the six months of being there, she got the offer to go full time. So I decided to call her and she cried again. ‘They offered me a full-time job. All this was worth it.’  replace them.

What do you think of hiring those without a college degree? Let us know in the comments. 


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