Some employers are expanding eligibility to those without college degrees for positions that previously required them. (Shutterstock illustration)

Companies Can Benefit From Expanding Opportunities to Employees Without Degrees

Back Commentary Jan 13, 2022 By Gina Olson

Gina Olson is the senior vice president of enterprise applications at SAFE Credit Union.

Employers report they are having a difficult time filling positions as the “Great Resignation” affects numerous industries, from retail and hospitality to education and health care. Employers are seeking multiple solutions, including expanding eligibility to those without college degrees for positions that previously required them.

I applaud this move because I know firsthand it’s possible to rise through the ranks without a four-year degree to become a senior vice president — even while juggling a demanding career and raising children. However, these achievements take an eagerness and willingness to learn new skills, and employers who will provide support and training to help workers climb from an entry-level job to an office in the C-Suite. 

Stories like mine shouldn’t be a rarity. And the good news is that employers have the opportunity to ensure experiences like mine will not be so unusual for the 70 percent of American adults who don’t have a four-year degree. 

The past two years saw two main societal forces strike employers: the economic impacts of the pandemic and urgency to increase the diversity of their ranks from entry level to top leadership. One way to improve diversity is to change to skills-based hiring practices. That’s because requiring a college degree automatically eliminates 83 percent of Latino candidates, 76 percent of Black candidates and 75 percent of American Indian candidates, according to data from the Education Trust. 

Some of the largest employers in the U.S. have committed to hiring based on skills, not a degree. The Rework America Initiative by Markle invites employers to provide opportunities and career paths to workers who have gained experience and skills through alternative pathways. Employers who have signed on with this initiative include IBM, Goodwill, Google, Microsoft, NAACP and CVS Health. 

Hiring is only the first step. Training, mentoring and clear career pathways are also essential to help employees thrive and support a company’s success. During my career, I took advantage of the many opportunities my employer provided and sought out mentors to help me learn management and leadership skills. I embraced unexpected opportunities and was willing to try new things. 

In the Capital Region, workers are fortunate to have several avenues available to them to receive advanced training, earn certificates and finish degrees. With only 31 percent of adults in Sacramento County having a bachelor’s degree or higher, those training opportunities can launch the nearly 70 percent without a degree into well-paying careers. 

Programs like Project Attain! provide ways for working adults to finish their degrees. The program reinforces educational equity, regional and individual prosperity, and skills alignment. Workers can earn certifications for career-building skills through the College of Continuing Education at CSU Sacramento and campuses in the Los Rios Community College District. In the Bay Area, Year Up offers tuition-free training for tech jobs.

More employers are starting to realize the untapped potential of workers who have strong skills and potential but don’t hold degrees. As the pandemic continues to affect employment and employers seek to increase diversity in their workforces, providing career pathways for those who have the skills and desire to grow is paramount for success. 

It’s up to all of us, as businesses and industry leaders, to have the courage to increase employee advancement opportunities. 

Gina Olson is the senior vice president of enterprise applications at Folsom-based SAFE Credit Union. 

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