New Survey Finds 80% of Employers Believe in Prioritizing Skills Over Degrees, Yet Gen Z Teens and Employers Still Default to College

Employers are increasingly finding value in looking beyond traditional degrees to identify and hire best-fit candidates, but more than one-third of teens believe hiring managers and companies still favor a college education, according to a national survey.

The new research, consisted of interviews and baseline surveys of 1,500 Gen Z teens and more than 600 employers, to understand current familiarity with and perceptions of non-degree postsecondary pathways. The key findings of the survey are part of a new report, “Degrees of Risk: What Gen Z and Employers Think About Education-to-Career Pathways…and How Those Views are Changing.

According to the report, both students and employers say that non-degree pathways can be high-quality learning opportunities, but both groups believe that they need more information to better understand the full range of options and their quality, including non-traditional degrees and other credentials.

While both groups also agree that proof of skills should be prioritized over degrees, the survey found a gap between understanding the options and willingness to participate in or take action on non-degree options. Gen Z teens and employers are both apprehensive about making the wrong choice, either in the pathway they pursue or candidates they hire. They don’t understand the options for non-degree credentials and the value they provide, and believe the risk is too great to diverge from the known entity of a degree.

Key findings from the study include:

Skills-Based Hiring Gains Traction. Both employers and Gen Z rank skills as the most important consideration in choosing an education or training program: 74% of Gen Z want to earn skills that will lead to a good job and 81% of employers believe they should look at skills rather than degrees when hiring. More than two-thirds (68%) of employers say they want to hire from non-degree pathways.

Employers—and Young People—Still Default to Degrees. Even though most employers (72%) don’t see a degree as a reliable signal for assessing the skills of a candidate, the majority (52%) still hire from degree programs because they believe it is a less risky choice when hiring. Gen Z students are still defaulting to degree programs because many (37%) believe employers favor degrees.
Fear of the Unknown. As a result, Gen Z fear there is too much risk associated with choosing the wrong non-degree post secondary path (65%). And 80% of employers want more information on how non-degree paths differ.

“Degrees of Risk: What Gen Z and Employers Think About Education-to-Career Pathways…and How Those Views are Changing” offers recommendations for the way forward to expand high-quality postsecondary options for all learners. In addition to the report, a landscape of non-degree pathways and a survey of policymakers and politicians on their perceptions of these nontraditional paths, will be published later this year as part of this research.