Hiring Businesses Value Competence Over Higher Ed Degrees – Trades & Experience Preferred


Tennessee has been on the leading edge of the renaissance of the trades and vocational training with certificate and apprentice programs beginning with partnerships in the Hamilton County Public Schools, the TN Colleges of Applied Technology, and Chattanooga State Community College in our area.

US employers, out of need, are catching up to Tennessee’s approach to offer certificate programs, associates degrees, trades and applied technology skills, in addition to the four-year degrees in universities to students seeking to find work, launch a career, and establish financial independence.

A monthly survey of nearly 70,000 American small businesses released its November 2023 issue of the Freedom Economy Index. The survey asked questions which included the economic outlook regarding their ability to navigate inflation, high interest rates, and wage pressures; the impact of federal policies and politics; and the quality of candidates for hiring coming from higher education versus those from trade or vocational training.

The survey section entitled Higher Education asked if “colleges and universities are graduating students with relevant skills that today’s business community needs.” A whopping 67% answered the question with “strongly no,” and 24.4% responded with “somewhat no.” Yes, that adds up to 91.4% who had less-than-favorable view of college degreed applicants.

The verbatims of the survey reflect the frustration of employers with job openings and candidates ill-equipped to work.

“The talent shortage will only get worse because high schools and colleges produce no talent,” said one business owner. Another commented, “Absolutely, not; what a waste, and I’m a college graduate.”

Getting more specific, the small business survey asked, “Are you more or less likely to consider a job seeker with a 4-year degree from a majority university or college?” Again, well over half of the respondents indicated the lack of preference for a degreed individual.

Only 10.2% would prefer a college degree from a major university or college in contrast to 20.1% who answered that they would be somewhat less inclined to hire a 4-year graduate. Those answering that they would be “strongly less likely” to hire a 4-year college graduate was 20.6% with 41.5% declaring it would make no difference.

Quick math shows that almost 41% had a bias against degreed applicants to meet their workforce needs and 41.5% had no preference when compared to others applying with trade experience or training.

Looking again at the verbatims to understand the needs of businesses versus the degrees being awarded after 4 years and millions of dollars spent, the reality of work is quite different from the academic setting. One respondent summed it up: “We would hire someone with hands-on experience over someone that read about it in a book.”

The fact that employers nationwide are now seeing the trend that was already recognized in the Volunteer State should give Tennesseans an appreciation that gainful employment is treated as a priority within our local and state governments. President Ronald Reagan summed up our state’s educational framework when thinking of personal empowerment: “The best anti-poverty program is a job.”