New Jersey loosens degree requirements for state jobs in favor of skills training, work experience

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New Jersey will prioritize skills training and work experience over college degree requirements for certain state jobs, according to an April 10 announcement from Gov. Phil Murphy’s office.  

Now the New Jersey Civil Service Commission will identify the job classifications that require college degrees and determine which ones fall under the new plan to prioritize skills. The goal is to open the door to high-paying jobs, with salaries that may surpass $120,000 per year.

“Every American should have the ability to attain a good job with growth opportunities and secure their place in the middle class, regardless of whether or not they have a college degree,” Murphy said in the statement.

“Employment qualifications for good-paying jobs in our state workforce should not exclude individuals with qualifying experience, unique skill sets, and diverse backgrounds,” he said. “Today, we open the door to that opportunity for applicants across our state, and urge other states, as well as private sector employers, to remove barriers to opportunity.”

Executive Order No. 327 will take effect immediately, starting with a six-month period to allow the Civil Service Commission to identify the jobs that don’t require a degree and ensure job postings line up with the order.

New Jersey joins a growing list of states that are deprioritizing college degrees in hiring. In mid-December, Utah announced that a bachelor’s degree would no longer be required for most state jobs, which was quickly followed this year by announcements from PennsylvaniaAlaska, and Maryland. Colorado and North Carolina have made similar plans as well.

Private employers have also called for a greater emphasis on job-based skills training, practical work experience, and alternative certificate programs. More than half of middle-skill jobs don’t need a four-year degree, according to recent research shared with HR Dive. Instead, job descriptions focused on skill-specific requirements can attract a more diverse and prepared workforce.

As public and private employers make announcements and begin to adapt their practices, several barriers may arise. Companies must update job postings, broaden the hiring process and interview panels, and shift the onboarding process to focus on skills. Leaders will also need to outgrow an outdated mindset around degrees and become more familiar with credentials and alternative forms of skills-based training.

Despite the challenges, some employers are already making an effort. In recent years, Cleveland Clinic has adopted a skills-first approach, removed some of its four-year degree requirements, created skills-based career pathways, launched apprenticeship programs, revised more than 260 job descriptions, and reworked more than 2,000 roles to accommodate better hiring practices.

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