College Degrees Grow More Important for Job Placement

By Samantha Gordon
Posted April 03, 2013 11:00 AM

More employers look for candidates with college education.
More employers look for candidates with college education.

More employers are requiring job applicants to have college degrees for positions that were once filled by workers with only a high school diploma. Unemployment rates continue to improve around the U.S. following the recent recession, but the landscape of job opportunities has changed substantially over the years. 

"Employers are filling more entry-level functions with educated labor," Brent Rasmussen, CareerBuilder North America's president, said in a press release. "While some of this may be attributed to a competitive job market that lends itself to college grads taking lower skill jobs, it also speaks to companies raising performance expectations for roles within their firms to enhance overall productivity, product quality and sales."

Looking at the Numbers

Harris Interactive recently conducted a survey of more than 2,600 U.S. employers for to get a better idea of what they are looking for in qualified candidates for entry-level positions across a number of industries. The trend of seeking degree-holders is more common in some industries than others, but widespread change indicates that higher education may become even more important in securing a career.

Overall, 32% of hiring managers indicated positions that had been held by high school graduates in the past are now being filled by those with associate's and bachelor's degrees. This new practice was most prevalent in the financial services industry, as 53% of survey respondents indicated college degrees were a must. Healthcare (40%) and manufacturing (38%) featured prominently as well.

Positive Effects of New Hiring Conditions

The most recent data on employment in the U.S. indicates that there were more job opportunities and fewer firings in January 2013, according to Bloomberg. Only 1.51 million employees lost their jobs that month, which is the lowest number of terminations in 12 years. A major reason for this is that businesses are more optimistic about the economy, which could have something to do with their new staffing policies.

The CareerBuilder report found that 64% of businesses felt their employees were delivering higher quality work, 45% have seen a boost in productivity and 22% reported more revenue.

What This Means For Employees

As more jobs that were once filled by people with high school diplomas require at least an associate's degree, there could be an increase in the number of adults returning to school to pursue degrees or certifications that will help them secure jobs or advance in their current fields. Even those who hold college degrees may find the need to hit the books, as businesses may prefer higher levels of education for all positions. So, a job that once required applicants to have a bachelor's degree might now call for a master's degree instead.

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