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Talent Talk: Do College Degrees Still Matter?

There’s chatter in some circles downplaying college degrees as a job requirement, but in the plastics manufacturing space, at least, that’s just idle talk.

Paul Sturgeon

September 25, 2023

2 Min Read
college graduate sitting by himself
Sean De Burca/The Image Bank via Getty Images

In the past year alone, 10 additional states have dropped degree requirements for many state jobs, and the trend is gaining traction in the private sector, as well. It is an obvious move to open the potential candidate pipeline in what will ultimately be at least a decade of extremely tight labor market conditions.

What does the picture look like in our world of plastics manufacturing? This is anecdotal and not scientific, but I can report no change whatsoever in how companies view the degree requirement, whether hiring entry level or professionals with industry experience. Degrees still matter, so I guess I could end the blog here, but it isn’t that simple.

What we are seeing is a smaller percentage of the workforce having the needed degrees. I’m not an historian or a sociologist, but I believe somewhere along the line we parents began to do a huge injustice to our children.

We began sending our children to college and telling them to pursue what they love. That sounded good, but here’s what happened: The kids pursued what they loved in college, and often what they loved took a path of less resistance than the difficulties of a degree in science, mathematics, or engineering.

We were able to manage as baby boomers dominated the workforce and manufacturing jobs moved overseas by the millions, but multiple factors are now bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States. This will increase the need for more college graduates with degrees in engineering, chemistry, industrial automation, business administration, and so on.

This will be even more critical as the workforce also gets younger with the boomers rapidly retiring. Generation Z, those born from 1997 onward, constitutes 6% of today’s workforce, but that will grow to 30% by 2030. Any talk you hear about backing off the degree requirement is more talk than action, and probably not coming from those doing the hiring.

 

paul-sturgeon-150.jpgAbout the author

Paul Sturgeon is CEO of KLA Industries, a national search firm specializing in plastics, packaging, and polymer technology. If you have a topic you would like to see discussed, a company that is growing, or other ideas for this blog, e-mail Sturgeon at [email protected].

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