Why IBM wants to hire employees who don’t have a 4-year college degree

IBM Chairman, President and CEO Ginni Rometty arrives for her keynote address at CES 2016 January 6, 2016 in Las Vegas.
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Having a four-year college degree is generally regarded as a necessity to score a job in tech. But as the number of tech jobs has climbed, far outpacing the number of applicants, companies like IBM have turned to talent with non-traditional educational backgrounds.

With this drastic shortage of tech workers, the company is now focusing on skills-based hiring rather than credentials to fill these roles.

IBM's hiring practices are part of a larger trend in the industry. Tech companies like Intel and GitHub have also been seeking talent from other educational avenues, such as coding programs and high school partnerships, according to Fast Money.

In a USA Today column, the company's CEO Ginni Rometty explains that not all tech jobs require a college degree. As industries transform, she says, "jobs are being created that demand new skills – which in turn requires new approaches to education, training and recruiting."

These "new collar jobs," says Rometty, are becoming harder to fill. In the U.S. alone, there are more than 500,000 open jobs in tech- related sectors, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. A recent study by Code.org reports that as many as 1 million programming jobs will be unfilled by 2020.

To counter this, IBM's CEO says that the company intends to hire 6,000 employees by the end of this year, many of whom will have unconventional backgrounds.

"About 15 percent of the people we hire in the U.S. don't have four-year degrees," IBM's vice president of talent Joanna Daly tells CNBC Make It. "There's an opportunity to broaden the candidates to fill the skills gap."

In June, the company announced that it would be partnering with community colleges across the U.S. to better prepare more Americans for "new collar career opportunities."

For those who don't have a bachelor's degree, Daly says she likes to see hands-on experience and that you've enrolled in vocational classes that pertain to the industry you're applying to.

"I like candidates who have taken the initiative to learn these skills," she says. For example, she advises that you take a coding boot camp if you want to work online.

"Know about the area that you're applying for," says the HR exec, "and have a point of view about what we're doing."

This is how much education you need to land a job at the world's biggest tech companies
This is how much education you need to land a job at the world's biggest tech companies

Sean Davis, a security engineer for IBM's cybersecurity business, is one of the company's "new collar" hires.

Davis, who grew up in the Bahamas, received his associate degree in computer engineering technology at Tampa Tech Institute in Florida. He also holds multiple industry certifications in the security field, however, he doesn't have a traditional four-year bachelor's degree.

The security engineer started his professional career at Delta Airlines and gathered more tech certifications as he moved up in rank. That's what helped him score a job at IBM in June 2008, he tells CNBC Make It.

"If you received certification years ago, it's not relevant," he advises other unconventional hires looking to enter the tech space. "Always stay current on the industry and on new technology."

"Hands-on experience, by far, is the biggest thing there is," he adds. "Always hone your craft."

Having hands-on experience is a desirable trait across companies. According to a report by the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, 55 percent of security hiring managers say practical, hands-on experience is the most important qualification for a candidate.

"New collar" jobs not only bring in candidates who built skills through coding camps, community colleges or modern career education programs, but they also attract veterans and those reentering the workforce or relaunching their career, says Daly.

Last year, IBM's CEO said that the company intends to hire 25,000 professionals in the United States and will invest $1 billion in training and development of their U.S. employees, both within the next four years.

"IBM has a robust training portal and provides you with classes," says the security engineer. "If I want to do a particular platform there's a roadmap."

Daly adds that it's important for companies to recognize that there are different ways to get jobs in tech and different qualifications. When reviewing applicants for open positions she says to ask, "Do I really need a four-year degree for this?"

IBM's CEO says that an open position does not require a bachelor's degree in many cases.

"At a number of IBM's locations...as many as one-third of employees don't have a four-year degree," Rometty writes in her column. "What matters most is that these employees...have relevant skills, often obtained through vocational training."

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See also:

Why the U.S. has a shortage of tech workers

Why IBM sends its best employees abroad for four weeks

3 ways the most effective bosses are retaining their 20-something employees