Widening access for people who take non-traditional career paths

 There’s a chasm between the number of open jobs that require a college degree and the number of people who have one. Of positions that pay more than $35,000 listed on most job sites, more than 75% require a diploma from an institute of higher learning. But only one-third of applicants on the job market meet that criterion.

That mismatch between skills and requirements is pushing many businesses to reassess their criteria, widening the access to new and non-traditional career paths for people who didn’t go to college. At Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif. last week, leaders from three tech giants discussed how their companies are approaching the issue.

“Many of the founders who grew these (tech) companies don’t have degrees,” said Colleen McCreary, chief people, places, and publicity officer at Credit Karma. “The bias around the school thing…company after company has tried to smash that down. It’s an ongoing conversation you have to have.”

At Credit Karma, 15% of new hires come from non-traditional paths these days. But to ensure their success, it’s about more than just giving them a chance—it’s about having a path set up for them to follow.

Google identified this problem as significant five years ago, said Lisa Gevelber, founder and head of Grow with Google, a program that helps people without degrees gain the skills to access higher-paying jobs. The solution was the Google Certificate Program, which initially taught a few dozen people the skills they needed to be an IT support person without having to go through college.

It was so well received that the company scaled it. Today, the program trains non-college graduates in five fields: data analysis, IT support, user experience design, project management, and e-commerce/digital marketing.

In the last 18 months, 250,000 people have graduated from the program, filling some of the 1.5 million open jobs in those fields.

Other companies, like Salesforce, focus on things like apprenticeships, helping workers navigate through the business as they learn valuable skills.

It’s not a cheap program, but all of the panelists agree it’s one that’s worth it, if only because it presents the opportunity to retain workers and build loyalty.

“When you’re hiring from non-traditional pathways, our research shows [workers] stay longer,” said Ebony Beckwith, chief business officer and chief of staff to co-CEO Marc Benioff at Salesforce.  “You’ve invested in them, and they’re excited to be there.”

“Employees already know what’s expected of them,” added McCreary. “If they’re saying they want to stay, why wouldn’t you give them the time and effort to keep them?”

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