What Bypassing College Could Mean for Gen Z and Recruiters

As the cost of college keeps climbing, younger people are looking into alternatives that can lead to good jobs in technical fields like programming, engineering and robotics. Chris Beckage of Acara Solutions discusses this growing trend . . .  and what it means for recruiters plying their trade.

May 31, 2019 – Students across the country are about to graduate from college. But did you know that 75 percent of Gen Z believe there are alternative methods of getting a good education aside from going to college? This is according to a recent report by technology-led cultural consultancy Sparks & Honey.

In addition, a new report by Inside Higher Ed said that for the last seven years, college enrollment rates have experienced a steady decline, with recent numbers indicating a 1.8 percent decrease in overall enrollments from 2017 to 2018.

Some of this new thinking may come as a result of seeing what happened to the previous generation. Millennials are said to be questioning if their large student debt was worth it, especially considering that 44 percent of recent college grads are employed in jobs not requiring degrees and one in eight recent college grads is unemployed. Today, companies like Google, Apple and IBM no longer require college degrees for good jobs like software engineers and web developers. With tuition costs continuing to rise, many members of Generation Z may see education alternatives as the best way to go.

“The cost of a college education continues to rise, and with the prospect of tens of thousands of dollars in student-loan debt, younger people are asking themselves if college is worth it,” said Chris Beckage, senior vice president, north region at Acara Solutions, a provider of talent and workforce solutions. “Of course, there are pros and cons to bypassing college. But, a trend we’re noticing at Acara Solutions is that from an early age, individuals are becoming more involved in activities that teach them highly technical skills like programming, engineering, and robotics.”

“Even my first grader is actively involved in robotics and programming activities,” Mr. Beckage said. “Companies are catching on to the fact that the younger generations are interested in these fields, and some even sponsor high-tech education programs in elementary, middle and high schools. This gives them access to future talent, and it also exposes students to employers who value professional development.”

Real-World Skills

Equipped with real-world, high-demand skills, some of these students choose to bypass college and enter directly into the workforce. “They often require additional training once they join an organization, but companies are also beginning to offer development programs that provide technical, business and soft-skill education,” said Mr. Beckage. “So, for younger individuals who are unsure about attending college, there is opportunity to develop desirable, job-ready skill-sets and attain visibility with future employers.”

Related: What Companies Are Looking for In Younger Workers

Mr. Beckage knows about current recruiting trends. In his role with Acara, he provides insight into business development efforts for Acara’s offices. He also works with decision makers to provide workforce alignment solutions that allow companies to maximize productivity at the best available cost. His expertise lends to being a resource that understands market trends, best practices and talent acquisition and retention plans.

Recently, Mr. Beckage sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss what younger people not going to college could mean for the recruiting industry.

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Chris BeckageChris, do you think this recent trend of younger people not going to college will continue?

Yes, I believe this trend will continue, in particular within technology related fields and the skilled trades. There is currently a shortage of talent in these fields, and employers can engage individuals at an early age to provide them with job-specific training. If you look back at college enrollment numbers, they’ve been steadily declining for the last seven years, with recent numbers indicating a 1.8 percent decrease in overall enrollments from 2017 to 2018. This trend can be attributed to a number of factors, but I believe the availability of alternative pathways to success is one of them.

What does all this mean for the recruiting industry?

This trend presents an opportunity for an additional layer of involvement for those in the recruiting industry. Since it’s becoming more common for students to be trained in job-specific skills at an earlier age, the recruiting industry can get involved with these development programs, in particular at the high school level. Doing so will not only provide access to top talent, but it will also give insight into the best methods for developing young employees. We also have to develop clear expectations for non-degree job candidates. These individuals may eventually need additional training while on the job, so it’s important for those in the industry to be aware of this possibility and relay it to clients.


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Can you offer some advice for recruiters or hiring managers for bringing on candidates with no college degree?

My first piece of advice is to have the proper expectations. Focus on evaluating a candidate’s technical and professional skills, as well as his or her self-awareness of areas that need development. If you’re bringing on non-degree-holding employees, know that they may need additional soft-skill training. The university setting often helps with the development of these skills, such as communication, collaboration and leadership, so non-degree holders might need growth in these areas to ensure they can operate smoothly in an office atmosphere. If you want a more concrete way to evaluate a candidate’s hard skills, consider utilizing capabilities testing. This is especially useful for employees in technology related fields where many key capabilities are tangibly demonstrable. For example, if an individual is applying for a computer programming job, you could provide them with samples of coded programs with preloaded problems and ask them to identify and solve those problems in a given timeframe. Testing like this can reassure you that a candidate has the skills he or she says she does.

“This trend presents an opportunity for an additional layer of involvement for those in the recruiting industry. Since it’s becoming more common for students to be trained in job-specific skills at an earlier age, the recruiting industry can get involved with these development programs. Doing so will not only provide access to top talent, but it will also give insight into the best methods for developing young employees.”

What is pay like for those candidates in comparison to those with degrees, and do you expect the money would hold up long term over entire careers?

It’s difficult to gauge long-term compensation for non-degree holders, as many of them may ultimately choose to pursue degrees, especially if their employers have tuition reimbursement programs. However, pay for non-degree employees will really come down to their ability to develop business acumen in addition to their job-specific skill sets, the combination of which will increase their value in any given organization.

Related: How Generation Z Will Impact the Future Workforce

Are there shortcomings or risks for businesses or for those bypassing college?

There are some shortcomings to bypassing college. The college experience is often life changing. For many, it’s the first time living away from home, and it’s a valuable lesson in balancing a personal life with school and potentially a job. College also provides exposure to diverse classes and viewpoints that often impact thoughts, beliefs and career choices. Additionally, college allows individuals to make mistakes — like being late on an assignment or missing an important meeting — without the same level of consequences that may occur in a professional scenario. In the professional world, you can be fired for these missteps. But in college, you may get a bad grade, or at worst have to retake a course. College students have the advantage of learning how to be accountable in a relatively low-stakes environment.

Will enough employers accept this approach?

I speak often enough to employers and at conferences to know that organizations must adapt to market conditions, or they will lose out on talent and limit creativity and diversity. Employers who completely discard non-degree employees could very well miss out on hard-working, innovative workers with unique perspectives. Employers who accept non-degree candidates should remain flexible in their interviewing and development processes to give themselves the best chance of hiring and retaining premier talent from the next generation.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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You are missing a key alternative-starting at a Community College. Getting a 2 year degree for only 8-10k and then transferring to a 4 year school will still give the student a 4 year degree with an overall 40%+ savings. Also, many high schools offer Head Start or AP classes that are even more cost effective.