Breaking Barriers: States Prioritizing Skills and Experience Over College Degrees | Markle
Breaking Barriers: States Prioritizing Skills and Experience Over College Degrees | Markle

Breaking Barriers: States Prioritizing Skills and Experience Over College Degrees

May 19, 2023 - Written By Markle | Blog Archive


With Ohio being one of  the latest states to announce an executive order to prioritize skills-based hiring, we looked at what changes are being made and why.

In the past year, an increasing number of states have adopted practices prioritizing experience and skills over traditional educational qualifications such as college degrees. The shift toward skills-based practices is driven by several factors, including the need to address worker shortage, promote diversity and inclusion, keep up with changing job market demands, and an understanding that obtaining a four-year degree should not be the only way to get a good paying job or have a fulfilling career. What has also propelled this shift forward is the recognition that by imposing degree requirements on many roles, states are missing out on a wide pool of skilled workers with a lot to contribute.

States including Alaska, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, and now Virginia have all taken steps to implement a skills-based approach to hiring.

The benefits of states adopting skills-based practices

Addressing the worker shortage and tapping into talent

Several factors, such as lack of access to childcare and early retirements have made it challenging for many states to fill open positions with qualified candidates. By prioritizing skills and experience over a college degree, states can tap into a larger pool of applicants, including those who have gained valuable skills through vocational training or work experience. This approach helps address the labor shortage and ensures that open positions are filled by qualified workers.

Promoting diversity and inclusion

Black and Latino job seekers are less likely to have bachelor’s degrees than non-Hispanic white. By eliminating unnecessary degree requirements, states can create more opportunities for people of color historically excluded from certain positions due to lack of access to higher education or financial barriers. Now candidates can be considered based on their skills and experience, regardless of their educational background.

Preparing for a rapidly changing job market

The job market is continuously evolving, and many of the skills that are in demand today may not require a college degree. By prioritizing skills, states can better keep up with changing job requirements and adapt to emerging industries, ensuring that the workforce remains equipped to handle changing demands. We’ve seen states have success with this first-hand in Colorado with Markle’s Skillful initiative. When the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing (HCPF) was struggling with a high turnover rate and applicants abandoning their online applications. They turned to skills-based management training held by Skillful and after implementing skills-based practices, HCPF reported decreasing its vacancy rate from nearly 35% to under 10%. Application abandonment rates also plummeted from a high of 60% to less than 8%. And morale was much improved. These changes took place over a short six-month period.

To help states adopt a skills-based labor market, the Markle Foundation established the Rework America State Network in 2018. The State Network is a non-partisan collaboration with 30 state governors and the mayor of the District of Columbia working to unlock economic mobility for all American workers. The network provides a forum for governors and their senior teams to share innovative workforce practices, tools, data, and resources to transform the labor market at a scale and pace not possible through individual state actions. In turn, member states bring a commitment from the governor and senior state leaders to work towards expanding economic security and mobility for all, particularly for populations with the least economic power.

Rework America State Network members pave the way to a more inclusive economy


The state of Colorado has a longstanding partnership with the Markle Foundation. In 2016 Markle’s Skillful initiative launched in Colorado and engaged employers, educators, policymakers, and workforce development organizations to create a labor market in which skills are the valued currency.

In April 2022, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed an executive order to expand access to direct state agencies to consider job applicants’ skills and experiences as substitutions for educational degrees and certifications when making hiring decisions. During the signing, Governor Polis stated, “Coloradans have the skills, experiences, and backgrounds they need to succeed and I am proud that the state’s hiring practices will reflect our commitment to finding the best talent for each role and include best practices from the private sector.”  Based on this order, the Department of Personnel & Administration (DPA) will develop guidance and strategies to assist state agencies to implement skills-based hiring practices and work with agencies to update job postings to reflect the skills-based approach.

New Jersey

In April 2023, the state of New Jersey issued an Executive Order that prioritizes experience and skills over 4-year degrees for certain state jobs. The move is part of an effort to expand opportunities for individuals who may not have pursued higher education but have gained skills and experience through other means. The order targets specific jobs that may require a degree, even though the skills necessary for the job may not necessarily be related to the degree. By removing this requirement, state agencies can expand the pool of qualified candidates for these positions, which in turn can help to address workforce shortages and improve diversity in the workforce.

North Carolina

In March 2023, Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order removing the degree requirements for many state jobs to encourage more North Carolinians to apply for state jobs and to help the state government recruit additional skilled workers. Under this executive order, the government will recognize the knowledge and skills workers bring from prior jobs and experiences, such as military service, on-the-job training, and apprenticeships, and how the skills earned through those experiences will help them be successful in a state government role.


In May 2023, Governor Mike DeWine signed an executive order that builds upon Ohio’s efforts to be a model employer in skills-based hiring practices. The executive order aims to achieve a diverse workforce based on the skills workers can bring to an employer and shift the focus from degrees to candidates’ skills and abilities. Among other things, under this executive order, the Ohio Department of Administrative Services will formalize and enhance its policy on skills-based hiring, adding components including a job matching tool on application portals; ensuring agency, board, and commission compliance with the administrative rule; and reviewing current minimum qualifications which are position specific or preferred in hiring practices to ensure they are not stated in terms of academic degrees.


In January 2023, on Governor Josh Shapiro’s first day in office, he signed an executive order to eliminate college degree requirements for positions in state government, with the goal of expanding job opportunities for those who have relevant skills but lack a college degree. The initiative, called “Pennsylvania’s Workforce, Pennsylvania’s Future,” applies to 92% of state postings and emphasizes skills and experience in the hiring process. The initiative also aims to increase investments in workforce development programs and apprenticeships to help individuals gain the necessary skills for high-demand jobs in the state.


In December 2022, Utah Governor Spencer Cox launched the state’s Skills First initiative, which prioritizes skills over degrees when hiring employees for state government positions. The job postings will emphasize skills and competencies needed for the job, rather than requiring specific degrees, to attract a more diverse pool of applicants. The initiative also involved creating partnerships to provide training opportunities and apprenticeships for individuals seeking to develop their skills.


In May 2023, Virginia Governor Governor Glenn Youngkin announced a landmark change in how state agencies will recruit and compete for talent by eliminating degree requirements, preferences or both for almost 90% of state classified positions. These changes aim to expand opportunities for Virginians and give equal consideration to all qualified job applicants.

Looking ahead

By prioritizing skills and experience over traditional educational qualifications, skills-based practices open opportunities for a wider range of candidates and help address worker shortages, promote diversity and inclusion, and prepare for a rapidly changing job market. It’s encouraging to see states stepping up and making commitments to skills-based practices, but there is still much work to be done across the country. There is still a lot of entrenched bias toward degrees in hiring. This will require mindset changes and overcoming the inevitable inertia inside systems. As more states and companies leave outdated practices behind and embrace skills-based practices, the workforce will become more versatile and better equipped to meet the needs of the future.

As more states continue to adopt a skills-based hiring approach, we’ll continue to update this article, so be sure to check back for updates.




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