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COVID-19 Increases Attractiveness of Nontraditional Education Among Younger Applicants

While the nation and the world struggle to adapt to the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are looking ahead in an effort to anticipate the long-term implications the current experience will have on business and society in general. It is likely that the forced shift to remote work and learning will have lasting effects on American workers. Those still in school, or yet to enter the workforce, may never have the same type of traditional office job that has seemed like the norm for white collar workers for decades.

Declining Value of Traditional College Education

This paradigm shift coincides with an existing trend among Generation Z in particular to place less value on a traditional college education. This cohort has seen their older siblings struggle to find jobs out of college and struggle with student debt. As Ryan Jenkins notes in an article for Entrepreneur, “only 26 percent of Gen Z perceive education as a barrier to workplace success and 90 percent of employers say they are more open to accepting nontraditional candidates who don't hold four-year college degrees.” Jenkins further notes that Gen Z also has a preference for entering the workplace sooner than previous generations. This is understandable for workers not taking two to four years to pursue full-time post-secondary education.

Implications for Tackling Disparate Impact

There is an additional demographic element to this trend as well. Traditionally disadvantaged groups like African Americans and Hispanics were already both less likely to attend college and less likely to graduate college, if they attended, than their White counterparts. The impacts – both in terms of health and economics – are felt more significantly by minority groups. These factors combine to make it increasingly likely that younger people of color will be less likely to have a traditional four-year college degree than other demographic groups.

This means, of course, for companies requiring traditional degrees or limiting their applicant consideration to only those who have them, the potential for disparate impact on already marginalized groups.

Opening Minds to Alternative Indicators of Competence

For businesses, the path to diversity and inclusion needs to include being open to non-traditional educational backgrounds. Alternative indicators of competency could include certificates from micro-learning courses, apprenticeships and on-the-job training for example. The risk of failing to account for the changing educational environment is that companies can miss out on increasing numbers of great candidates who don’t see the value in, or can’t afford, a traditional four-year degree.

If you haven't taken a close look at the educational requirements for your job descriptions, this may be a good time to do so with an eye toward minimizing the potential negative impact that a strict focus on and stringent requirements for various degrees could have.

Be inclusive!

Avoiding the "Stuck State"

Organizations and their leaders are well-intentioned, yet many are still languishing in a stuck state. The key is for businesses to understand that leveraging diversity and inclusion to nurture a strong bottom line are long-term goals that require long-term efforts and cannot be solved through short-term initiatives. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

Our recent white paper, Overcoming the Stuck State, offers some insights into the steps that need to be taken to get unstuck. These are trying times, but these are not the times to back away from the business imperative of building an inclusive culture. Inclusion matters! Download a free copy of our most recent white paper here.

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Are you tired of workplace diversity training that does not link to business? Are you tired of tactics that don’t drive business results? InclusionINC has strategic consulting, leadership development and inclusion learning solutions and that link inclusion to employee engagement, productivity, innovation and retention, moving inclusion beyond tactics to a critical business strategy.

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