From education to employment

The 5% Club challenges “Credentialism”

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Today, on #ALevelResultsDay, The 5% Club (@5PercentClubUK) challenges employers to look beyond educational qualifications so they can access the broadest talent pool and deliver business success. As the nation embarks on the usual discussion centred on fairness and grade inflation, The 5% Club has published its latest paper Talent Inclusion – looking beyond the qualification filter which sets out the reasons why the current focus on qualifications and traditional criteria, risks creating a culture of “credentialism” which can distort attitudes and behaviours and sustain the myth that University is the only credible route into employment. With more young people set to follow this path – possibly as a “safe haven” as we settle into the post-Pandemic norm – The 5% Club challenges employers to ensure they remove unnecessary qualifications and essential criteria from their job adverts. The call is for employers to:

 “Stop, take a moment and “sense check” the qualifications and levels of experience you are defining as essential for your roles”.

The paper is supported by an Expert Opinion from Claire Paul MBE, former Director of Leadership and Career Development at the BBC. As a non-graduate herself, Claire has personal experience of credentialism as she describes her own recent job search. “From the moment I began to scour the market I was taken aback”, she says, “The message was loud and clear; in the wider senior management world, people like me are viewed as “second-class”. Even for leadership roles designed to raise the quality and esteem of vocational education (my particular professional passion), job after job specified degree-required or degree-preferred.” She goes on to describe a discussion with a recruitment consultant, “I advised her I wasn’t eligible because her selection criteria regarded me as not bright enough. Even on zoom I could see she had the good grace to look embarrassed. Her reply was, “Oh, we don’t mean people like you”. 

This behaviour and some of the contradictions she observed drove her to conduct her own “desk level research” where she feels that about half of employers may well be using unnecessary qualifications in their job specifications. She describes the corporate contradiction which sees companies “shouting out undying corporate commitments to diversity and inclusion. Like the employer whose headline said, “we promote all forms of diversity at all levels in the organisation” whilst requiring their HR managers to have a university education”.  

Claire brought her observations to The 5% Club, a movement of over 550 Employers who seek to inspire positive employer action for increased, accessible and inclusive workplace learning, after a connection was made through the Apprentice Ambassadors Network, which inspired further analysis, and which has resulted in the paper published today.

Mark Cameron OBE, CEO of The 5% Club said, “Claire’s experience mirrors that faced by many in our society. There remains a societal bias towards the degree pathway as the best route into employment, with other routes often seen as a poor alternative. This could not be further from the truth, especially when 25-30 percent of graduates are “underemployed” in roles that do not require a degree, and many apprentices are earning more compared to their mainstream graduate peers”.

He adds, “The 5% Club is campaigning on a broad front to ensure the workplace is inclusive and accessible to all, and that employers have access to the largest pool of talent, especially as the nature of work changes as we move into the information age. We are keen that unnecessary credentialism is removed from recruitment practise and would wish to see individuals employed based on their suitability, aptitude and potential”.

The 5% Club published its “Manifesto for skills across a lifetime of earning and learning” in May 2021, and today expands its previous calls on Government and Employers:

  • Employers are asked to sense check the qualifications and experience levels being used on job adverts and role descriptions – as has been seen in large employers such as the Armed Forces, BBC, Apple, Google, and IBM.
  • There is a broader ask of Government to create a national skills/attitude assessment framework – such a framework having tremendous benefit in terms of recruiting, as well its obvious utility for inclusive progression.
  • The need for parity of esteem for all educational pathways is reiterated, as is the need to remove the sustained bias towards higher education. That way: every individual can achieve their full potential, without fear of negative judgement or prejudiced and outdated opinion from others; a balanced and effective eco-system will be created that delivers to meet the national skills need; and educational pathways will be matched to follow-on careers, which will do much to address the continued spectre of “Graduate Underemployment”.

The 5% Club firmly believes that these measures – along with the broader requests set out in their Manifesto for Skills – will have a transformational impact on millions of young people as well as businesses looking to recover and Build Back Better following the pandemic. It would turbocharge the Government’s skills agenda and help to boost the economy for years to come.  

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