22nd May 2023
3 Min Read

ATS: ditching those without degrees

Paige Lazonby
Paige Lazonby
Diversity & Inclusion

With an average of 250 applicants per corporate job opening, it’s not surprising that hiring managers are on the lookout for a way to streamline the process. As many as 75 per cent of recruiters are now using applicant tracking software (ATS) to skim through CVs and filter out lots of them before they’re ever seen by a human.

One of the most common ways ATS whittles down applicants is with education level. Those with a degree but little-to-no career experience are favoured over candidates with the skills but no university education.

This method may be faster in the short term, but it results in top talent being overlooked. Businesses will end up with a highly educated but low-skilled workforce, and that means more training.

When a new hire takes an average of 12 months to reach their peak performance, having a team with the skills from the beginning goes a long way in keeping your organisation profitable.

Don’t get me wrong, there are jobs out there that need a university-level education, but findings by Harvard Business School suggest that there’s a huge discrepancy between previous job requirements and present ones. New applicants are asked to have a degree even when the people they’re replacing do not.

This results in lots of skilled workers struggling to find work while companies struggle to fill job openings – spending unnecessary money doing so. The only people winning here are the ones selling ATS.

And it doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. With more and more young people opting for skills-based education routes, like apprenticeships, requiring degrees when they aren’t necessary will only exacerbate the difficulties and severely restrict the talent pool.

Dialling up diversity

Using ATS also contributes to a lack of social mobility and workplace diversity. It’s no secret that people from more deprived areas are far less likely to attend higher education, and even when they do make it to university, they’re more likely to drop out. It’s the same with other factors like race, gender and disability, which can all play a part.

A study by Sartore & Backes-Gellner showed that in workplaces with high-complexity tasks, it’s good to have an educationally diverse team, something that companies like Ernst & Young, IBM and Accenture have already embraced by ditching the degree as a requirement for new job applicants.

When a workplace has a diverse culture that’s open to all, with methods of communication accessible to everyone, the knowledge and skill sharing between team members can be a huge advantage.

Ditching more than the degree

According to UK Parliament, there are still more vacancies than there are people to fill them. When only 42 per cent of adults in the UK have a degree, widening the net is the best way to increase your chances of filling vacancies.

But ATS doesn’t just throw out the degree-less. Hiring managers can tell ATS what skills they’re specifically looking for. If an applicant doesn’t have it written precisely as specified, guess what? Yep. They’re out. And what about the gap on your CV when you were unable to work due to illness? Sorry, you’re out too!

These strict parameters mean quality candidates are prematurely sifted out based on a mere difference in phrasing. And for those with CV gaps, they have an impassable barrier to re-entering the workplace.

With the next generation not only looking to different education routes, but also for companies that invest in diversity and inclusion policies, is the time saved by ATS in the short term really worth it in the long term?

In short; no.

Unless it’s necessary for the role, tell ATS to ditch the educational filtering when it isn’t needed. Trust your hiring manager to make the call on whether an applicant has the skills and experience needed.

With this approach companies will get the right talent – not just the most educated.

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