Is a degree essential to a career in tech?

New data suggests attitudes towards college degrees aren’t as strict in 2023.

The tech skills gap is a key site of discussion in both tech and wider business circles, and an ongoing issue in urgent need of redress. Recently, it’s been reported that the tech skills gap may widen if the uptake and pursuit of tech careers remains low among Gen Z. Given the high cost of a college education, it’s worth asking the question of whether you really need a college degree for a career in tech in 2023.

Jefferson Frank, a Tenth Revolution Group company, has conducted new research to gauge contemporary attitudes amongst tech professionals towards college degrees. Surveying more than 3,000 tech professionals worldwide across the cloud tech ecosystem, the results reveal more openness amongst tech professionals than might be expected alongside a clear tension when it comes to actual access and implementation. But if a college degree isn’t essential, access and inclusion for professionals from different educational backgrounds becomes more possible – increasing the possibilities of closing the tech skills gap.

Here are the key findings from the research:
  • 55 percent of cloud tech professionals said that having a degree was not an important factor in finding a role in the ecosystem they currently work in
  • 33 percent of pros believe a degree is important for working in tech more generally
The findings show that at 33%, only a minority of tech professionals feel a degree is essential for a career in tech. Further, 55% believe that having a degree was not a decisive factor in securing their current role.

In the past, a college degree was generally held as a prerequisite for most professional career tracks, but as the job market has changed – and it continues to shift so rapidly in tech – so too have the skills required to succeed. Most crucially, as the data suggests, attitudes also change over time. And while attitudes do not immediately make for access, a shift in collective attitude is in many ways itself a prerequisite for change and action.

There are several reasons why a college degree may no longer be necessary for a tech career. Firstly, there is a growing demand for workers in the tech industry to close the skills gap. Recent research indicates that the talent shortage could cost US businesses an estimated $8.5 trillion by 2030 if it remains unsolved.

Additionally, because tech work invariably necessitates further specialization, many employers are willing to train and educate workers on the job – or support them in their own external learning, as is common in other professions such as law and finance. With online courses, bootcamps, upskilling programs, and certification pathways more readily available, there are now multiple avenues outside of a college degree that someone can take when they’re looking to pursue a career in tech.

These alternative paths are generally more accessible than a college degree with its associated high costs. Non-traditional education and training also tend to offer greater flexibility as well, increasing potential access for parents and carers, for example. Training and certification also result in skills and knowledge that are directly and immediately applicable to specific roles, making them arguably more focused than the typical college degree.
Reflecting on the new data, Jefferson Frank Chairman & CEO, James Lloyd-Townshend remarked: “It’s positive to see that there’s an increasing openness to non-traditional pathways to a career in tech. It’s good for individuals, good for businesses, and good for the tech sector as a whole – particularly in the context of the digital skills gap, which some say has actually widened in the last year or two. If attitudes around college degrees as a requirement have become less stringent, as our research indicates, now is the time to see those attitudes put into practice as widely as possible.”

As the industry continues to evolve, it is likely that we will see more innovative approaches to training and education become more widespread, which will in turn help to address the persistent skills gap and make tech careers more accessible to a wider range of people.

Author's Bio: James joined Jefferson Frank in 2015 and serves as Chairman and CEO. He has more than two decades of experience leading staffing firms, identifying and developing market-leading brands in specialist cloud technology markets across the globe. Alongside his business acumen, his passion is fostering inclusive environments in which everyone is able to thrive.
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