Is a degree more important than the ability to do the job?

Maryland announced it was reducing the four-year degree requirement Tuesday for thousands of state jobs.

But not everyone is a fan of the idea.

There has been pushback online, including from a union president who said the state was “de-skilling” those jobs.

The criticisms are frustrating to organizations like Opportunity@Work, which works to help people who are skilled through alternative routes (aka “STARs”) work and earn to their potential.

“It doesn’t de-skill the job, because you haven’t changed the skills,” said Bridgette Gray, the chief customer officer for Opportunity@Work.

“The skills for the roles are not changing. The salaries are not changing. What’s changing is thinking about how you source talent. All you’re doing is opening up to talent that’s ready to go to work today but haven’t been able to access those jobs because they don’t have a four-year degree.”

At the end of the day, Gray said, this is an equity issue.

“Who is it actually impacting? It’s impacting people of color. Fifty-eight percent of Black workers in Maryland are STARs. Forty-six percent of Hispanic workers in Maryland are STARs. Rural communities as well,” Gray said.

She also cited many veterans are STARs as they have in-the-field experience for jobs but no degree once they leave the service.

“There should be no one out here who doesn’t want an equitable opportunity for everyone. There should be no one that doesn’t want a platform opened up,” said Gray, “If you’re clerical or administrative and that role is asking for a four-year degree, but you have all the skills to do it, then you should be able to get that job without a four-year degree.”

She sees the state taking the step to change its hiring practices to drop the degree requirement for many jobs as an innovative move that is going to benefit many Maryland residents.

Over time, she hopes that as skilled, non-degreed candidates excel in positions made available to them, critics will learn a degree is not needed for success in every job.

Michelle Murillo

Michelle Murillo has been a part of the WTOP family since 2014. She started her career in Central Florida before working in radio in New York City and Philadelphia.

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