Data Shows Credential Demand Shifts

by Rachel Zinn
September 16, 2014

Using workforce data from multiple sources, a Burning Glass report finds increased employer demand for bachelor’s degrees in occupations formerly considered middle-skill jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.

Burning Glass—a company that develops technology to assist in job matching—compared information from its database of millions of recent job ads with the credential attainment of current employees reported by the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

The difference between the percent of job ads requiring a B.A. and the percent of job holders with a B.A., dubbed the “credentials gap,” is more than 25 percentage points in some fields, like office administration.

After a more detailed analysis of the skills requested by job ads, Burning Glass believes there are two reasons for the credentials gap: 1) some occupations have become more complex, often due to technology; and 2) employers are using B.A. degrees as a way to screen for generally high-performing workers, even though skill requirements haven’t changed.

Wages for jobs with large credential gaps have risen in the past decade, the report found, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wage increases happened both in occupations with added complexity (e.g. mechanical drafters) and in those that use a B.A. as a screening tool (e.g. computer network support specialists.)

That’s a key point for policy. “Upcredentialing” in certain occupations may be paying off for workers with B.A. degrees.

Another important takeaway is that “jobs in fields with strong certification or licensure standards, or with discreet, measurable skill requirements” are not experiencing increased demand for B.A. candidates. So, creating or maintaining these standards may be a way to keep middle-skill jobs available to workers who have the necessary postsecondary training, but not a B.A.