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Many Gen Zers don’t believe they need a college degree for a successful career. They might be right

Tatiana Buzmakova - Getty Images

Famous for their tendency to buck tradition, many Gen Zers don’t think a successful career necessarily requires a college degree, or even a nine-to-five job.

Forty percent believe college degrees aren’t necessary, finds a global study of more than 7,000 Gen Z workers conducted by freelancing job platform Fiverr in partnership with Censuswide. And 70% said they consider freelancing to be just as viable a career option as a traditional nine-to-five. (Of course, freelancers may have been more likely to see and take a survey hosted by a freelancing job platform.)

An economic downturn and a rapidly shifting labor market has led Gen Z in the direction of flexible and passion-driven work, said Gali Arnon, Fiverr’s chief marketing officer. They were the cohort’s top two priorities, followed by financial security. “As we’ve observed in the growing community of Gen Z freelancers on Fiverr, the autonomy freelancing affords serves as a major draw for a generation eager to pursue their passions, hone their skills, and have more control over their earnings and career trajectory,” Arnon wrote in the report.

Lucky for them, this anti-degree attitude is catching fire among the old, more conservative guard.

More companies are opting for skills-based roles

In its list of top workplace predictions for 2023, consultancy firm Gartner said skills-based hiring rather than degree requirements will dominate at successful companies. That’s mostly thanks to the historically tight talent market and the battle for qualified workers.

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“To fill critical roles in 2023, organizations will need to become more comfortable assessing candidates solely on their ability to perform in the role, rather than their credentials and prior experience,” Gartner wrote.

More Fortune 500 companies, including Google, IBM, and Apple, have eschewed their longstanding degree requirements in recent years. In November 2022, just 41% of U.S.-based job postings required a bachelor’s degree, per an analysis from think tank Burning Glass Institute. That represents a 5% drop from 2019.

But this isn’t a pandemic-era concession. In 2016, IBM coined the term “new collar jobs” in reference to roles requiring specific, teachable skills rather than a degree. Between 2011 and 2021, the company’s degree-required job listings dropped from 95% to fewer than 50%.

Ginni Rometty, IBM’s CEO at the time, told Fortune last year that non-degree-holding hires performed just as well as workers who had Ph.D.s. And General Motors’ chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, Telva McGruder, recently told Fortune’s Phil Wahba that degrees aren’t “necessarily the be-all, end-all indicator of someone’s potential.”

According to some experts in the careers and job search field, skills are inarguably the new degrees. Traditionally, hiring managers had no way of sizing up talent besides assessing their job history, pedigree, or network, LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky told the Harvard Business Review.

“When the labor market is moving much quicker, we really need to figure out something to focus on, and that alternative, flexible, accessible path is really going to be based on skills.” Roslansky said.

That’s good news for U.S.-based Gen Zers, 36% of whom told Fiverr the ability to build skills at a new job was a primary factor in their search. Assuming, of course, they haven’t yet lost their enthusiasm for nine-to-five roles entirely.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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