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Can you get a job without a degree in 2024?

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It used to be that having a degree was vital for getting a decent job that paid the bills, but things are shifting. Employers are starting to care more about what you, as an individual, are capable of beyond your degree. This has made securing a job without a degree so much more possible for many people as instead of just looking at where you went to school, they want to see what skills you have and what experience you bring to the table. This means that even if you don’t have a degree, you still have a shot at landing a great job, but that doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing all through and through.

Whether it’s going for a degree or opting for the skill-based approach, you need to first know what’s at stake.

Why did we need degrees in the first place?

Having a degree was once a surefire way to open doors to better opportunities, but why did degrees become so important in the first place?

Having degrees became the standard for decent jobs due to historical, economic, and cultural reasons. After World War II, more people went to college thanks to the rollout of social programs.

Over time, society began to see getting a degree as essential for success and better job prospects because it was, to put it simply, a green flag for recruiters and employers. A degree was basically a neon sign that screamed, “I’m smart, I’m dedicated, and I’m ready to dive right in with much less training.”

Employers used degrees as a quick way to filter job applicants who could stick through with something to the very end—and who were ‘educated’. Additionally, companies needed workers who could keep up with the rapid pace of technological evolution. The people with access to college education simply had more information and experience to work with, thus pushing them higher up the list.

However, as this very same technology started booming and the world became more connected, something spectacular happened. The internet made information accessible at the touch of a button.

Suddenly, people were able to access large amounts of information, from books to scientific journals, blogs, videos, and lectures. It was no longer restricted to libraries and the walls of institutions. From this came a more robust culture of learning, where anyone, anywhere, could teach themselves anything.

As skilled individuals without degrees started to crop up, employers began to value their abilities more. 

What do employers think?

Nowadays, some employers are starting to question whether degrees really matter as much as they once did. 

People Management highlighted that, according to a Hays UK survey, “45% of employers say an applicant having a degree is ‘not important’.” Additionally, “A further two in five (39%) of the 14,925 employers surveyed said a degree was ‘quite important but not essential’, while just one in six (16%) viewed the qualification as essential when recruiting.”

So, instead of focusing solely on degrees, many companies are looking at what candidates can actually do. This shift is good news as it means many might have a better shot at landing a job based on the skills they’ve mastered, not just the degree they have. 

What about the people looking for jobs? 

For some employees, the pressure to go to college remains high. Many worry that without a degree, they’ll be stuck in low-paying jobs with limited opportunities for advancement. There is, in fact, some truth to this.

In early 2024, CNBC reported that “workers without degrees are not getting as many good job offers as it seems”.

The article references a report from Burning Glass Institute and Harvard Business School, highlighting that it “focuses on how companies stack up in their efforts to hire non-degreed workers. This is important to U.S. workers, more than half of whom don’t have degrees, since it impacts their ability to get higher-paying jobs and better roles.”

But with the rise of skill-based hiring, some of that pressure is starting to ease. 

“For workers, what is often now called skills-based career opportunities can lead to pay increases of as much as 25%, and companies get employees who tend to stay longer in roles,” the article stated.

The issue is that securing a job isn’t the end-all as for many, going to college is seen as the ‘path to a better life’. We’ve all been told at some point that if we want to be successful, we need that degree. This is why many young people take on massive student loans and work multiple jobs to pay for tuition, hoping it’ll all be worth it at the end—but as we know now, that’s not the only option.

It’s important to know what the pros and cons are of both choices before picking the one that’s right for you. Let’s get into it.

Pros of the degree route

  • A degree can open doors to higher-paying jobs and career advancement opportunities. 
  • Having a degree can signal to employers that you possess valuable skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication. 
  • It demonstrates your ability to commit to a long-term goal, manage your time effectively, and juggle various responsibilities. 
  • These skills are transferable across industries and can make you a desirable candidate for a wide range of positions.

Cons of the degree route

  • Rising tuition costs and student loan debt can tank your finances very early in life with long-term repercussions. 
  • The time commitment required to complete a degree program are a significant hurdle. 
  • Textbook learning may not be the best fit for everyone, and some may struggle to excel in such environments.
  • The value of a degree is not guaranteed in every job market and may not hold equal weight across regions.

Importance of degrees varies across industries

In some fields like healthcare, law or engineering, degrees are required by law or regulation (and for good reason), but in other industries, it’s not so rigid. In tech, for example, what matters most is what you can do with a computer, not whether you spent four years in a lecture hall. That’s the basis of skill-based hiring, where employers focus on what you can do instead of just looking at where you went to school.

Today, tech giants like Google and IBM have thrown out the old playbook and are hiring based on skills, not degrees. If you can ace their coding test, you’re in—no degree is required. It’s not just tech, though. In fields like construction and manufacturing, employers care more about whether your hands can handle the job.

And so, more people are realising that there are other paths to success, ones that don’t involve racking up thousands of dollars in student debt—the skills-based route. Through the skill-based route, people can pick and choose what topics and skills to invest in, saving time and effort while getting more specialised. This has pushed upskilling to the forefront, making it a good alternative route to career advancement. 

Pros of the skills-based route

  • Unlike traditional degree programs, which require a significant time and financial investment, upskilling initiatives can be tailored to fit your schedule and budget. 
  • Those who acquire in-demand skills through vocational training or certification programs are often in high demand by employers seeking to fill specialised roles.
  • Whether you’re learning a new programming language, mastering a trade, or honing your leadership skills, there are plenty of options available to suit your needs in various formats.

Cons of the skills-based route

  • Sorting the good certifications from the bad could be difficult. Some may lack accreditation or fail to provide the necessary skills and knowledge needed. 
  • It’s possible to become overspecialised in a particular field, putting your professional growth through a bottleneck.
  • Discerning which skills are actually required could be challenging, especially in more variegated and vast industries, like health.

So, can you get a job without a degree?

Yes—but with several caveats attached. First and foremost, remember that the importance of skills, practical experience and adaptability can’t be overstated. College degrees still hold the highest value in certain industries even though employers are increasingly prioritising candidates who can demonstrate relevant skills and a willingness to learn.

But this doesn’t mean you need to limit yourself. Gone are the days of linear career paths and lifetime employment with a single company. Instead, you must be prepared to embrace change, seize opportunities, and continuously upgrade your skills to remain competitive.

For students and interns navigating the job market without a degree, there are several practical steps you can take to enhance your prospects. Conducting thorough industry research to identify in-demand skills and emerging trends within your chosen field. From there, assessing skill gaps and seeking out opportunities for upskilling or vocational training can help bridge the divide and make you more marketable to potential employers.

Above all, we encourage you to embrace a mindset of lifelong learning and professional development. Whether through online courses, industry certifications, or hands-on experience—or even a degree, we can never stop learning if we want to grow. 

If you’re looking to kick off your career the right way in 2024, book a call with us. Let’s talk about it! You can also subscribe to our newsletter for the latest career information, tips, and updates. (They’re both completely free!)

Kahless

Kahless

Kahless is a writer with a special interest in sociology. He spends much of his free time travelling, reading, writing, and stopping his cats from ripping apart everything he owns. It’s advised to bring along a strong cup of coffee (3 espresso shots minimum) when approaching him.

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