Does it seem like jobs that haven’t historically required a university education in order to perform are suddenly asking for bachelor’s degrees and more? Well, you’re not imagining it.

It turns out that some of the same occupations that were on Manpower’s Talent Shortage survey released last month as being the hardest for Canadian employers to find qualified applicants for are also the jobs where employers are asking for more advanced qualifications than have historically been required.

Our friends at Burning Glass recently looked at millions of job postings to compare the level of education that is being demanded of new applicants hoping to move into positions with the credentials of the people who currently hold those same roles. There’s quite a difference.

The report is called “Moving the Goalposts: How Demand for a Bachelor’s Degree Is Reshaping the Workforce,” and it shows how more and more jobs are now asking for a bachelor’s degree as the price of admission – whether or not that level of education is actually required to do the job.

Some occupations are actually becoming more complex, and this can be seen in the ever-increasing job requirements. A large part of that change is driven by advances in technology. As technological advancements in both hardware and software make many roles more efficient, the people on the job not only use new skills and levels of expertise but they also take on more advanced functions in the workplace.

That makes sense. However, in many other cases, the report points out, it’s simply a case of employers asking for more and more credentials from people being hired to do exactly the same job.

And here’s the thing. The list of jobs that employers are finding hard to fill (because of a lack of qualified applicants) is strikingly similar to the list of roles there the qualifications demanded of new candidates exceeds those of the people currently working in the roles.

The largest credential inflation is for management roles

The biggest gap between the education level of people who are currently in a role compared with what is being asked of new hires is in Management positions. While 42% of managers and supervisors have bachelor’s degrees, 68% of job postings for open positions in these roles demand a university education.

Another stand out profession for credential creep is in Office and Administrative Services. While only 20% of people in executive assistant and clerical roles currently have degrees, 45% of job postings are now asking for them.

Business and Finance, Computers and IT, and Sales roles all show a significant discrepancy between what is actually required to perform on the job and what is being asked of new hires for them.

Why are employers asking for more?

The trouble with the increased demand for bachelor’s degrees for jobs that may not actually require the associated skills is that it shuts out a large portion of the population from contention. According to Statistics Canada, only about 22% of the Canadian workforce has a university degree.

But then again, that could be partly the point. Since the recession happened, there have been many more unemployed people available for any given job, so employers could be using ‘credential creep’ to narrow down the field of applicants to what they perceive to be the best and the brightest.

While significantly more job advertisements are requesting that applicants have bachelor’s degrees, the candidate’s level of education is among the last thing that employers actually check.

Employers look at 16,000 resumes a day in the Workopolis resume database to find candidates. The vast majority of their searches are keyword based. However, only 1 per cent of keyword searches are related to degree type or specific education.

See: The most searched keywords by industry.

Employers have numerous options for filtering the millions of resumes on Workopolis. They search candidates by skillset, experience, location, previous employers, and even how recently a resume was updated, all much more than they scan for level of education.

    According to Burning Glass:

    “There is considerable anecdotal evidence that many administrative, clerical, and human resources positions have become more demanding because workers have to deal with new technologies. However, the skills requested in job postings for those positions are similar whether they ask for a bachelor’s degree or not.

    It isn’t so much that college graduates bring a new skill set that employers can’t find elsewhere; it’s that employers seem to presume that a college graduate will be more capable at the needed skill set than those without a degree.”

Changing the game

Employers are asking for more and more (perhaps irrelevant) credentials at the same time as they are complaining of a shortage of qualified workers. Among the fields that showed the greatest amount of credential inflation are Management, Admin, IT, Sales, and Finance.

Perhaps not coincidentally, among the hardest positions for Canadian employers to fill this year according to Manpower were Management and Executives, Administrative staff, IT professionals, Accounting and Finance, and Sales people.

Many of the same roles that are experiencing a shortage of qualified applicants are raising the bar on the level of qualifications applicants need to have.

That’s not just moving the goal posts, it’s moving them and then claiming that kids these days can’t kick.

Peter Harris

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