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Walmart Plans To Remove College Degree Requirements From Hundreds Of Corporate Job Descriptions

Jena McGregor
Article Date
September 28, 2023

For many roles at Walmart’s corporate headquarters, applying for a job is about to require one less thing on your resume: A college degree. The retail giant said Thursday it plans to rewrite hundreds of job descriptions so that for many of its corporate job titles, applicants can have either a college degree or show they have needed skills through prior experience or other types of learning.

The move adds one of the largest U.S. employers to the growing ranks of companies and institutions moving away from mandating college degrees for jobs in certain fields, such as cybersecurity, data analytics or operations. Driven by a shortage of talent in high-demand areas, dwindling college enrollment amid increasing costs and corporate efforts to improve diversity numbers, “skills-based hiring” has become one of the hottest topics in corporate boardrooms.

Companies such as IBM, Accenture and Google have all worked to reduce the number of jobs that require degrees—and many more are taking steps to do the same. According to a 2022 report by Burning Glass Institute, a labor market research nonprofit, some 46% of middle-skill occupations and 31% of high-skill occupations saw a “material” reduction in degree requirements between 2017 and 2019. As of June, some 13 states had removed unneeded degree requirements for state government jobs, according to the Brookings Institution.

Companies of Walmart’s scale doing the same for its corporate employees could help further normalize the idea. “The fact that a company like Walmart is taking these steps really underscores the fact that this is a movement that has significant traction,” says Maria Flynn, president of the Boston-based nonprofit Jobs for the Future, which Flynn notes has received grants from Walmart’s foundation. (Of course, store-based Walmart employees, who make up the majority of the company’s 1.6 million U.S.-based workers, aren’t required to have degrees. Walmart would not share the number or percentage of its headquarters employees.)

Lorraine Stomski, a senior vice president for associate learning and leadership, says that historically, the retailer has been “like every other organization. We would create a job description based on what credentials were needed, which was a combination of some skills [with] a heavy emphasis on the credential needed,” such as a diploma or other designation.

But as the demand for new skills shifts rapidly—and it becomes harder for organizations to predict which jobs it will need with the onset of technology like generative AI—it’s more important to start with a skills “taxonomy” and then build job descriptions from there, Stomski says. Walmart is working with the labor market data firm Lightcast to map skills needed in the future, comparing those to the skills the company will need. The company estimates applicants and employees will begin seeing the new descriptions next year.

Stomski gives the example of cybersecurity analysts. In the past, Walmart would require a degree for those jobs; now, it’s shifted to pulling people from a pipeline of workers doing certificates that might take nine to 12 months, rather than completing two- to four-year degrees. In Walmart’s free online education benefit, Stomski says she’s seen a shift in employees working on “majority college credentials to now more short-form stackable certificates for high-demand roles.”

The move is important for a company like Walmart, which has so many front-line workers and has long touted how many move up in the ranks. Keeping degree requirements for jobs at a corporate office when they’re not needed would “impose a ceiling of how high that pathway can go,” says Flynn.

For those jobs that do still require a degree, Walmart also said it is letting employees earn credit hours for on-the-job experience via education and upskilling platform Guild to help speed up the acquisition of a degree. It is also expanding the number of certificates it offers and developing tech tools to help workers personalize career paths.

Walmart also said Thursday it is making a $5 million grant via to Rockefeller Philanthropic Advisors and its SkillsFWD initiative, which will fund projects aimed at solving challenges around skills-based records for workers. reports philanthropic investments of more than $140 million over the past five years related to skills-based systems.

In the broader economy, “we’ve used degrees as proxies for skills that have, frankly, been weak proxies,” says Julie Gehrki, vice president of philanthropy for “Moving to a skills-based system is saying we actually need to be more granular than this. We need to recognize the specific pieces of skills people have. They need to be validated in some way.”

Removing degree requirements is an important step for Walmart and other companies, but Flynn says employers must take an “ecosystem” approach that also trains managers to not be biased against candidates or workers who don’t have degrees.

And of course, after removing credentials from job requirements, the next step is for companies to show they’re actually hiring workers without them. Even at JFF, which removed degrees from most of its own job descriptions, Flynn feels the nonprofit needs to do more to hire people who don’t have them. “I would ask a similar question of some of these companies: You may have removed the requirement, but how are you actually changing your hiring?”

An earlier version of this story listed the nonprofit Jobs for the Future as being based in Washington, D.C. It is based in Boston.…