Blog post

Dropping degrees and embracing skills: How to tackle the technology skills gap

Read time:
4 minutes

Historically, tech firms have demanded qualifications such as college degrees for their job openings. But a dwindling number of applicants has made talent acquisition difficult. Is it time to drop degrees and embrace skills-based hiring to close the digital skills gap?

Digital skills gap

“Do you need a degree to work in tech?”

That’s the question that the BBC posed recently in a feature exploring how businesses are looking to tackle the digital skills gap.

The skills crisis is biting hard, but the issue is particularly acute in the digital world.

Salesforce's 2022 Global Digital Skills Index revealed that the global digital skills readiness score is just 33 out of 100, with 64% of managers reporting that their employees are not able to keep pace with future skill needs.

As outlined in BBC’s piece, companies are finding it particularly hard to fill entry-level roles - but one way that organisations are responding is to start hiring individuals without degrees.

This is a great way of widening the talent pool and recruiting a more diverse workforce, and is a tactic that is being adopted by IBM.

Research by The Burning Glass Institute reports that only 29% of IBM's listings for a Software Quality Assurance (QA) Engineer in the US require a degree. This compares to between 90% and 100% at many of the other big tech companies.

"They're behind the curve," Robin MacDonald, Director at tech recruitment company Harvey Nash told the BBC. "They just haven't changed their ways. They'll have to. There's no reason a QA needs to have a degree to do that job. We can train those people in months."

But while widening the net increases the available talent, how do you ensure that your rates of hiring success don’t plummet as a result? If you’re not using educational credentials as your recruitment North Star, what are you using instead?

Can skills-based hiring solve the digital skills gap?

A growing number of tech firms, including IBM, are adopting a skills-based approach to recruitment to identify the soft (behavioural) skills that are key to success in the role.

Research by LinkedIn reveals that a skills-first approach can widen the talent pool by 9x for those without bachelor’s degrees.

Crucially, however, not only does it enable organisations to widen the talent pool, but it also reduces failed hires. So not only does a skills-based approach remove the risk associated with dropping degrees from job requirements, it actually improves the hire success rate. Research from McKinsey has indicated that hiring for skills is five times more predictive of job performance than hiring for education and more than two times more predictive than hiring for work experience.

To learn more about skills-based hiring, read our introduction to the topic here

Spotted Zebra empowers organisations to respond to the skills gap crisis through our skills-based workforce management platform

As part of the Spotted Zebra platform, we provide a skills-based hiring app that enables organisations to identify and focus on the behavioural and technical skills that are key to success in specific roles. We then provide support so that candidates can be assessed and rated according to their fit for a particular role skills profile. 

Beyond that, Spotted Zebra also assesses the quality of fit that individuals have with an organisation in terms of values and culture, and also assesses whether the individual has the right skills to grow with the organisation over time. 

The results of this are dramatic. 

Our data shows that high performers on Spotted Zebra assessments reach competence 20% faster, and are 2x more likely to be rated as top performers in their role.

If you'd like to review your strategic workforce plan, our experts are available for a Skills Strategy Lunch and Learn. Click here to learn more and reserve a session for you and your team.