Select Page

The skilled trades and manufacturing industries are consistently advancing technologically, creating new positions and the need for new and improved skills among current employees. While this is certainly positive, it results in increasing the already problematic skills gap within these industries. How are employers supposed to hire for new positions when they are already struggling to find candidates for existing positions?

According to The Manufacturing Institute Report, “As of August 2022, there were 795,000 job openings within the manufacturing sector.” This massive skills gap has been noted as a top concern each quarter for the past decade in the NAM Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey and is attributed to “the inability to attract and retain more workers.” Over the next ten years, the Manufacturing Institute Report projects that of an expected 4 million manufacturing job openings, 2.1 million will likely be left unfilled.

For the future of these industries and the economy, this skills gap needs to be closed. While the reasons for the manufacturing skills gap are multifaceted, let’s take a closer look at why some employers are shifting away from college degrees and when it makes sense to prioritize skills over degrees.

The Relationship Between “Degree Inflation” and The Trades Industries

The trend of “degree inflation”, the rise in higher education degree requirements for new hires in positions that traditionally required only a high school diploma is a key factor causing the skills gap. In its publication, The Emerging Degree Reset, the Burning Glass Institute Reports that “degree inflation” has led to a “supply-demand imbalance” among prospective job candidates.

“The message that college is the only path to success has become ingrained in our culture in the last 30 years,” notes Alok Chanani, the founder of BuildOps software for commercial contractors.

As the need for skilled employees increased in manufacturing and trade industries, the availability of hires decreased, widening the gap. With the big push of needing a four-year degree to be hirable, Chanani points out that many high school graduates who may be excellent candidates for the trades industry never even consider it.

Burning Glass Institute Report explains that the four-year college degree requirement traditionally has served “as a proxy used to simplify the hiring process” by filtering out unqualified candidates. However, the result has not produced better hires. Rather, it has led to fewer candidates. Research shows a whopping 64% of the workforce has been eliminated from consideration in manufacturing and skilled trade jobs, regardless of their experience or skill level. All because they did not acquire a bachelor’s degree.

When (If Ever) It May Be Beneficial to Prioritize College Degrees in the Skilled Trades

Succinctly put in The Emerging Degree Reset, “Jobs do not require four-year college degrees. Employers do.”

Data analytics, engineering, and digital science are among jobs in which it may behoove an employer to require a four-year degree. For example, to pursue a career in data analytics, lists mathematics, statistics, computer science, economics, engineering, data science, and data analytics as degree programs that produce qualified candidates. The rise of automation has increased demand for data analysts and the variety of degrees to pull from can potentially provide an adequate supply of candidates.

However, even this position can be open to those without a four-year college degree. There are other options like certificate programs and self-study programs that can produce qualified data analysts. Likewise, Verdusco Consulting states that some of the best engineers are those without degrees who learned on the job. Historically, engineers have been required to have a bachelor’s degree. But it is up to the employer to decide if they will look at candidates who have learned these skills through other avenues.

Bottom line, the requirements an employer chooses to include are up to standards he or she sets.

Prioritizing Skills, Regardless of College Degrees

To reverse the skills gap, Burning Glass Institute Report has found that in recent years employers have increasingly loosened academic requirements. This includes major players like IBM who report more than 50% of their US job openings no longer require a bachelor’s degree. In their statement they note, “We are continuously reevaluating our roles to prioritize skills over specific degrees.”

Whereas in the past bachelor’s degrees have indicated to employers that job candidates possess both soft and hard skills, now they must consider how to ensure these skillsets in candidates without degrees. Articulating more specific required skills and experience on job postings and investing more time and energy into vetting candidate qualifications replaces the need for requiring a four-year degree.

The Manufacturing Institute Report lists the following soft skills employers should specifically require: critical thinking, interpersonal communication, teamwork and collaboration, flexibility, and ability to learn. In addition, they advise employers to “identify which skills are critical to bring to the role, versus skills that can be taught on the job.” To close the skills gap, the trade and manufacturing industries can replace four-year college degree requirements with trade school program certificates, apprenticeships, industry certifications, and train-to-hire programs.

NBS is Here to Help

Moving away from degree requirements may seem daunting, but there are resources to help employers ensure that existing and new employees are qualified for the job.

Our mission at Nocti Business Solutions is to help employers accurately assess the skills of their workforce and ensure employees have the correct technical skill for the job. Our library of 200+ technical assessments help organizations place the right people in the right positions. We can also assist with credential development and training solutions—just let us know how we can help solve your workforce challenges! At Nocti Business Solutions we have testing, assessing, and accreditation tools which will allow you to build the workforce your company needs. We are here to partner with you!