By Roshni Chakrabarty: The days of middle-class parents shouting at their kids to study and secure top scores “or elseâ€æ” may slowly be phasing out because now, the job market is experiencing a significant shift in its approach to hiring, focusing more on practical skills and real-world experience rather than relying solely on academic degrees.
According to a LinkedIn survey conducted earlier this year, 76% of professionals in India think that having a degree is not as important for getting a job as it was twenty years ago.
This paradigm shift — brought about by various factors, including technological advancements, evolving job roles, and a greater emphasis on practical knowledge — has brought about a significant transformation, reshaping the way hiring decisions are made and challenging the traditional notion that degrees alone guarantee success in one’s career.
This has also created opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds to showcase their talents and potential, regardless of their educational credentials.
We got talking to several industry experts to shed light on how the current job market has changed in terms of prioritizing skills over degrees, and highlight the factors driving this change.
RECOGNISING THE VALUE OF SKILLS
According to Vinay Pradhan, Country Manager – India and South Asia, Udemy, there has been a heightened recognition of the importance of acquiring skills in the global and Indian job market. Professionals are increasingly focusing on specialized skills rather than degrees, as skills provide immediate applicability to the job at hand.
Monica Malhotra Kandhari, MD of MBD Group, “Employers now give preference to applicants with the necessary skills, whether they were learned through formal education, online courses, or work experience,”
“This change has given people from different backgrounds the chance to showcase their skills and potential regardless of their educational background,” she adds.
Ayesha Katgara, Head Corporate Strategy at Jeena and Company, emphasises that practical skills drive innovation and productivity, offering a competitive advantage over candidates with theoretical knowledge alone.
“Although having a degree shows a person’s commitment to learning, it doesn’t guarantee that they possess the necessary skills for a specific job. Employers are more inclined to hire individuals who can demonstrate their skills through real-life experiences and projects,” she says.
“The industry still does recognise a degree’s enduring value, but in today’s job market, competence outweighs formal qualifications,” she adds.
Manish Madaan, Registrar at UPES, highlights that industries now recognize the value of candidates who possess relevant skills and the ability to adapt quickly.
“While degrees still hold value, industries are now prioritizing critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, teamwork, creativity, and digital literacy,” he says.
“Additionally, alternative education options, like online courses and vocational training, have further opened doors for individuals to showcase their capabilities,” he adds.
CHANGING JOB ROLES AND SKILL DEVELOPMENT
The rapid development of technology and the evolving nature of job roles have played a vital role in driving this shift.
Employees now need to rapidly learn new skills to use them in a variety of industries. One simply doesn’t have the time to learn through an academic degree course in a traditional setting.
Companies like Sahaj Software and Genpact acknowledge the importance of upskilling and reskilling employees to navigate the technological disruption. The focus is on building a resilient workforce equipped with digital and technology knowledge.
Manju Balasubramanyam, Principal of DPS North, Bengaluru, emphasises the importance of reskilling teachers with emerging tech tools to effectively impart knowledge to students thanks to the massive education shift brought in by the pandemic.
“On this World Youth Skills Day, let us celebrate (and promise to leverage) the power of future technologies, like AI, AR, and VR, in making education and skilling more immersive, human, and culturally centric,” says Manav Subodh, Managing Director of 1M1B.
“These technologies can enable our youth to have virtual workplaces and job experiences so that they can start developing real-world skills at an early age,” he adds.
Hari Krishnan Nair, Co-Founder of Great Learning, highlights that 70% of companies hiring candidates from Great Learning prefer skills.
“This shift has created a world of opportunities for professionals from non-tech backgrounds, opening up a bright future in the tech industry. Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Management were the most popular domains that learners from non tech background upskilled,” he says.
Ilesh Ghevariya, Founder and CEO of French Crown, emphasises the need for a diverse skill set in sectors like Direct-to-Consumer (D2C). Employers in this sector look for candidates skilled in data analysis, digital marketing, e-commerce platforms, customer experience management, and emerging technologies.
The rise of the gig economy has also contributed to this shift. Annanya Sarthak, Co-Founder and CEO of Awign, states that India’s job market is witnessing a skill-first era, where employers prioritise individuals who demonstrate skills and capabilities to execute work, regardless of traditional degrees.
PRACTICAL EXPERTISE TAKES CENTER STAGE
The job market is rapidly evolving, with new technologies emerging frequently. Saurabh Deep Singla, CHRO at upGrad, notes that degrees often lack dynamic curriculum updates, making it crucial for candidates to quickly learn and adapt to new skills.
“Skills are directly applicable to the job and enable individuals to perform effectively, even without the right degree,” he says.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this shift, emphasising the need for adaptable skills like problem-solving, attention to detail, teamwork, time management, and adaptability.
Manvendra Shukul, CEO of Lakshya Digital, highlights that practical capabilities, such as creativity, problem-solving, adaptability, and ingenuity, are increasingly prioritised in the job market.
“Especially in the creative industries, a degree is now becoming more of a good-to-have aspect rather than a must-have aspect,” he says, adding that the gaming industry looks for employees who “demonstrate relevant expertise and a willingness to learn instead of relying just on their academic credentials, which mostly are incidental.”
Employers value real-life experiences and projects that showcase a candidate’s ability to apply skills effectively.
Harpreet Kaur, SVP and Head of Corporate Personnel and Administration at Godrej and Boyce, stresses the need for the right skill set to complement formal education and enhance productivity within organisations.
THE ROLE OF VOCATIONAL TRAINING AND CONTINUOUS LEARNING
Sudhanshu Kumar, CEO of PW Skills, emphasises the need for a new approach to education and job readiness in today’s rapidly digitising world.
“Degrees alone no longer guarantee success in an era of constant disruption. To bridge the gap between skills and job market requirements, we must provide students with robust infrastructure, industry exposure, and hands-on programmes that foster curiosity, innovation, and practical application,” he says.
Vocational training, internships, and professional exposure through industry-academia partnerships, as suggested by Rajesh Bhatia, the founder of TreeHouse Education, can ensure that students are job-ready with 21st-century skills.
“The jobs of tomorrow will not be defined by academic degrees but by the challenges humanity is currently facing. Job applicants will need the skills to find solutions. Mere academic knowledge will no longer be sufficient,” he says.
MOVING BEYOND DEGREES
Professor Prashant V Yatgiri, Associate Professor Marketing and Co-Chair Placement and Corporate Engagement Office at T A Pai Management Institute, explains that employers no longer over-emphasise degrees, especially in technology-based profiles. They now favour hiring based on demonstrated skills and competencies that align with the defined role.
“But employers still place q high onus on students graduating from well-known institutes as they believe that graduates who have had formal education with a degree possess more refined social and soft skills,” he explains.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the change in the job market. Bhanurekha Reddy, Director of Campus Development Cell at Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology, Bangalore, notes that employers are now willing to waive degree requirements in favour of competent talent.
“In the early 2000s, there existed a trend called ‘degree inflation’ where employers added degree requirements to the job descriptions. During the years 2017-2020, employers revaluated degree requirements for a wide range of positions, reversing this trend,” she says.
She adds that employers are now interested in the student’s certifications, projects, internships, hackathons and ideathons attended.
“Employers’ expectations have shifted substantially from seeking out candidates with top grades and advanced degrees to those with hands-on, problem solving approach and good at reasoning and logical abilities,” she says.
EMBRACING A SKILLS-BASED APPROACH
Anil Valluri, MD and VP, India and SAARC at Palo Alto Networks, emphasizes that companies are now seeking candidates with specific skills over traditional degrees, particularly in fields like cybersecurity.
As per a survey by TestGorilla, 92.5% of companies see a reduction in mis-hires when using a skills-based approach.
Fulcrum Digital, under the guidance of Bensely Zachariah, Global Head of Human Resources, has embraced a skill-based hiring approach. They utilise pre-employment testing methods, certifications, and personality-based tests to evaluate candidates’ hard and soft skills, enabling them to make better hiring decisions while reducing bias in the process.
“One of the fundamental reasons cited for the shift in favouring skills over degrees is the surge in demand for talent which far exceeds supply. The historical pattern from the great recession of 2008 to the post-pandemic influx of employees in 2022 also gives credence to this theory,” Zachariah says.
LOOKING TOWARDS THE FUTURE
With the shifting focus of the job industry, employers recognise the value of practical expertise, adaptability, and a commitment to lifelong learning.
While degrees still hold significance, individuals need to cultivate a mindset of continuous learning and skill development to thrive and stand out in today’s competitive landscape as the job market continues to evolve.