Insights Article

At Intact, a college degree is not synonymous with potential

Why our approach to assessing qualifications yields better results

Jesse White
CEO
June 25, 2024
Published
June 25, 2024

For decades, we have lived with a myth: that a college degree is a prerequisite to success in a job. The government, the technology sector, and other employers of all stripes rely on it as a requirement for hiring.

This myth is holding us back as an industry and as a society.

The college degree myth has trapped millions of talented workers in low-wage jobs and in a cycle of poverty. According to Merit America, a national nonprofit looking to break this cycle through focused skills training, 53 million working adults, in the United States, do not earn a living wage. They are stuck with few options to advance: college is prohibitively expensive, and there’s a lack of quality vocational educational options. This group—which equals nearly half of the U.S. workforce—is an extraordinary, untapped talent pipeline, particularly for the technology industry—which evolves way too quickly for a traditional college education to keep up with. In other words, going to college might soon become actively unproductive for talented people interested in specialized technology careers. 

Before I share why, let me be clear: I am not advocating against going to college. College is a wonderful and transformational experience for those fortunate enough to experience it.  

 

Shortcomings of college degrees in technology

We work in an incredibly fast-moving industry. Many people may say this, but in our case, it’s difficult to overstate. ServiceNow, for example, has two major product releases every year, each one potentially transforming the way we deliver outcomes to our clients. It is highly unlikely, therefore, for any traditional higher educational program to keep up and train for jobs in this space. No matter what a person’s educational background is, they will require intense additional skills training to be successful on the job. 

Computer science degrees are in some ways counterproductive to the low-code/no-code space we operate in. Someone who has spent four years getting a computer science degree may understandably not want to do that kind of out-of-the-box configuration and scripting work. They may instead prefer to use their degree to develop something from scratch, like a game. It’s the equivalent of investing an enormous amount in learning to be a mason—it’s less likely you want to use your hard-earned skills to do concrete printing instead of stone work? (Unless you were to see the potential, the speed and the financial opportunity in doing so.)

People who hold other degrees—be they in business, communications, or marketing—do not have a competitive edge when they come into our pipeline. With or without a degree, new talent will all need to be trained in the same way to harness the potential of the latest technologies. 

By holding on to college degree requirements, companies are severely and unproductively restricting their own talent pipelines. This comes at a time when there is a severe labor shortage in the technology space: over the next decade, jobs in the sector are predicted to grow twice as fast as the labor market, and 64% of IT executives are reporting that it is hard to find qualified candidates.

 

Predictors of success at work

I have decades of experience hiring talent, and I can tell you that stamps on a resume are the least helpful predictors of job success. Instead, We look for qualities like emotional intelligence, drive, grit, intellectual curiosity, ability to learn quickly, and resilience in the face of challenge. Formal education can help nurture some of those traits, but they also commonly develop through other life experiences outside of college classrooms – and the experience of not going to college is just as powerful in that regard. 

A college graduate today has, on average, more job opportunities than someone without a college degree. Often, the person without a college degree has just one path—and this means they run hard after that opportunity with singular focus and with deep humility.

I speak from experience: I didn’t get a college degree. When I was 16, I wanted to get into the technology sector, and I could see that traditional educational paths at the time would not necessarily get me where I wanted to go. I was hungry, motivated, seized upon the one chance I got, and never looked back.

I look for that hunger in the eyes of a prospective hire. I also look for self-awareness, empathy, positivity, resilience and a humble drive to continuously learn. Taken together, these are the cornerstones of exceptional talent at Intact. (Watch this space for more details on how we have built an interview process at Intact to assess this. I am also always happy to talk more to anyone interested about how we approached this.)

 

The results, and a call to action

At Intact, we have built our business and our culture on the assumption that talent comes from anywhere. Every year over the last decade, our OnPoint training program has recruited the most impressive cohorts of individuals—regardless of whether or not they have college degrees. Our current graduation rate for this program is 95% with 100% of graduates achieving advanced industry certifications within their first year. It’s hard to imagine that many of our incredible friends and coworkers may have otherwise been unfairly excluded from the prosperity technology can deliver.  They’re delivering extraordinary outcomes for our clients,  their families and the business.

I would argue that employers, particularly in emerging technology sectors, who remain tethered to the college degree are doing a disservice to their own business by locking themselves out of a growing, millions-strong, extraordinary talent pool at a time they probably need it most.  With a thoughtful plan and a commitment to invest, you can unlock limitless potential for hungry job-seekers, positively impact your culture and the local economies you support.  It feels good every day to improve the lives of others and to be inspired in return with their humility, excitement and creativity.  It’s a beautiful reminder of what inspired many of us to choose this dynamic and ever challenging industry.

 

Let go of this college degree myth: it’s the smart, and the right, thing to do. If you need help doing it, we are here to talk.