Hey kids – if you want a job, any job, better get a university degree. According to recent studies and surveys a university degree is the new high school diploma. Even for traditional ‘non-degree’ jobs, employers are bypassing candidates that haven’t at least completed a Bachelor’s.

In a tough market, tough competition ensues. To get any kind of entry-level position it now pays to go to college. Commenting on this ‘up-credentialing’ trend, Suzanne Manzagol, executive recruiter for Cardinal Recruiting group in a New York Times article says that, “when [employers] get 800 resumes for every job ad, [they] need to weed [candidates] out somehow.” When there are this many candidates, employers can certainly afford to be picky.

To further demonstrate this direction in hiring, a recent survey of more than 400 employers across Canada found that 36% of hiring managers and HR professionals are now hiring more employees with university degrees for positions that were historically filled by high school graduates.

Weeding out candidates is one issue, but other studies suggest the nature of work is also changing and that perhaps more credentials, education and skills are required for traditional non-degree positions.

In a 2012, Georgetown University’s Center of Education and the Workforce study, findings showed “more than 2.2 million jobs requiring a minimum of a bachelor’s degree [had] been created since 2007…and…at the same time, jobs that required only a high school diploma decreased by 5.8 million.” Anthony P. Carnevale, the Center’s director and the report’s co-author says, “at a time when more and more people are debating the value of post-secondary education, this data shows that your chances of being unemployed increase dramatically without a degree.”

What’s ironic about this trend is that according to a report by the Conference Board of Canada, Canada’s education system “needs to do much better at matching what Canadians learn to evolving labour market needs.” While a university degree is becoming standard protocol for almost any type of employment, young workers are not necessarily learning the appropriate skills needed for emerging markets. One of the highlights of the report points out only 21% of Canadian grads are in sciences, math, computer science and engineering, which marks the third year in a row that this share has decreased. This while employment in professional, scientific and technical services rose by 26,000 jobs last month. (Proving that a science or engineering degree might come in handy.)

While the economy is currently still an employer’s market, this hiring trend may take a swift turn as unemployment is on the decline over the past six months. Employers may then face increased competition for skilled workers.

Paul McDonald, senior executive director of staffing firm Robert Half International says that the main reason people leave a job is “unhappiness with management.” This may certainly be the case for workers who have invested time and money into their education and want to build careers, but are facing ‘credential creep’ that diminishes the value of their degrees. Working at a position that doesn’t make use of their education will eventually become frustrating. What is interesting is that according to a Robert Half International survey 38% of Chief Financial Officers surveyed said that retaining valuable staff was a top concern for them, but only 13% indicated that improving morale and engagement was a part of their strategy.

Perhaps what’s behind the much discussed  current ‘skills gap’ is this: While many employers are lamenting the difficulty they’re having finding qualified candidates, a whole generation of bright, educated young workers are busy leveraging their university degrees to land gigs serving up coffee.

Did your first job require a university degree? And if so, did it actually make use of your education? Please, share your story with us!