By Ibby Vores, SHRM-SCP

Employers may finally be seeing the light about switching to skills-based hiring to address the talent shortage in the U.S.

In my career as a human resources manager, I counsel recruiters and hiring managers to consider all the facts before requiring a degree in a job posting. It’s always my advice to analyze the needs of the job now and in the future, then ask: Which functions can only be performed by someone who has a degree? Often, it turns out, a degree isn’t truly necessary to perform the job. When a qualification isn’t truly relevant or necessary, it can screen out talent, and at worst be a discriminatory barrier that creates legal jeopardy for the employer.


Business leaders who view a college degree as a “proxy” for hard and soft skills shrink their pool of viable candidates. Although many companies continue to view degrees as essential, according to a 2017 report by Accenture entitled Dismissed by Degrees, “Shifting from degree- and pedigree-based hiring to a competency-based approach can open up new pipelines for organizations struggling to find talent,” writes Jennifer Arnold in an article for SHRM Online.  SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, is the world’s preeminent HR professional society.

HR professionals have long known that treating people fairly doesn’t necessarily mean treating everyone the same. Automated applicant tracking systems (ATS) were once seen as a savior for helping manage huge volumes of applications. But an unintended and unfortunate consequence of ATS technology is that it’s depersonalized the hiring process. Smartphone technology has increased this problem exponentially. What was a paper screening process – with a real person reviewing resumes and considering applicants as individuals – is now an automated process that forwards a fraction of applicants to the recruiter. So when an employer plugs in a degree requirement when posting a job, resumes of candidates who have nontraditional backgrounds are disregarded.

Posting irrelevant requirements contributes to the perception of a talent shortage. Yet the employment market is brimming with untapped talent. Smart employers are looking for ways to widen their pool of applicants.


Gad Levanon, chief economist, North America for the Conference Board, advises employers to actively pursue people in demographics that are typically overlooked. In an article by Pamela DeLoach on HRDive, Levanon recommends reaching out to groups such as veterans, women returning to work after a career break, people who have been incarcerated, disabled workers, older workers and so called “gig employees.” There is also a huge group called discouraged workers – those who have given up on finding employment. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that some 335,000 fall into this group.

While Levanon referred specifically to roles in hospitality, manufacturing, and light industrial areas, the concept of broadening reach holds true for sales.

Overlooked and misunderstood by many, sales is a function that is vital to building a company’s bottom line. And, like other job categories, sales teams are being hit hard by the loss of retiring baby boomers. The Department of Labor predicts employers will need to fill 1.8 million sales jobs in 2018, accelerating to 2.5 million by 2021

Sales is also a field where skills and ability are not measured by college degree. “Consultative selling is a deliberate approach that can be learned,” says Virtanza Founder and CEO Debbie Holzkamp. “Selling is actually a series of common-sense steps. If a person has good social and communication skills, can think critically and knows solid basic math, sales is a viable pathway to an income-secure future.”

Holzkamp created Virtanza’s ACE CREDIT-qualified online sales training course, which prepares students for a sales career in which they can earn a median of $55K in compensation to start – even if they have never worked in sales. Virtanza offers active job placement assistance to every graduate, working hard to place them in entry-level sales roles where they can put their new sales skills to work.  Debt-free Income Share Agreements, an innovative tuition funding option, are available. Students in the State of Ohio may qualify for fully funded tuition assistance.  For more information, call today: 888-311-1265.

Author Ibby Vores, SHRM-SCP, is a senior human resources consultant and instructor for Virtanza, where she teaches resume writing and coaches students on job search techniques.