White House EO Prioritizes Skills Over College Degree in Federal Hiring

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President Trump issued an executive order today that the White House said requires Federal agencies “to focus hiring on the skills job seekers possess, rather than focusing on whether they have earned a college degree.” The White House said the order will transform the Federal hiring process “to replace one-size-fits-all, degree-based hiring with skills-based hiring.”

The order gives the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) 120 days to change job classifications and qualifications accordingly, with those new standards taking effect within 180 days.  The order says that Federal agencies may only prescribe minimum educational requirements for employees in “the Federal competitive service only when a minimum educational qualification is legally required” to perform the duties of the position in the state or locality where the duties are to be performed.

“The order requires Federal agencies to revise and update outdated Federal job qualification standards and candidate assessments, improving the quality and competency of civil service,” the White House said. “Unnecessary degree requirements exclude otherwise qualified Americans from Federal employment, impose the expense of college on prospective workers, and disproportionately harm low-income Americans,” the White House said.

“As a result of this reform, talented individuals with apprenticeships, technical training, and apt backgrounds will have greater opportunity to pursue careers in the Federal civil service,” the White House said.

“The foundation of our professional merit-based civil service is the principle that employment and advancement rest on the ability of individuals to fulfill their responsibilities in service to the American public,” the EO says.  “Accordingly, Federal Government employment opportunities should be filled based on merit.  Policies or practices that undermine public confidence in the hiring process undermine confidence in both the civil service and the Government.”

The EO says it tracks with private-sector hiring practice trends that seek talent through skills and competency-based hiring.

“Employers adopting skills- and competency-based hiring recognize that an overreliance on college degrees excludes capable candidates and undermines labor-market efficiencies,” the EO says. “Degree-based hiring is especially likely to exclude qualified candidates for jobs related to emerging technologies and those with weak connections between educational attainment and the skills or competencies required to perform them.”

“Currently, for most Federal jobs, traditional education — high school, college, or graduate-level — rather than experiential learning is either an absolute requirement or the only path to consideration for candidates without many years of experience,” the EO says. “As a result, Federal hiring practices currently lag behind those of private sector leaders in securing talent based on skills and competency.”

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