President Trump Signs Executive Order Prioritizing Skills over a College Degree for Federal Hiring

Written by Jeremy Mittman and Corey Singer

On June 26, 2020, President Trump signed an executive order that will overhaul the government’s hiring practices so that a job applicant’s skills will be given a priority over a college degree.  The executive order directs federal agencies to shift from vetting applicants based on their educational credentials and move toward using skill assessments and interviews with subject matter experts to determine an applicant’s qualifications.  

Degree requirements will not be entirely eliminated, as they will remain mandatory for positions where advanced degrees are legally required like in law and medicine.  Nevertheless, skills in jobs where having a degree is less important will be stressed.  Administration officials claim that this executive order will create a more merit-based system and lift barriers to employment for the two-thirds of American adults who do not possess a college degree.  The federal government is the nation’s largest employer with 2.1 million civilian workers. 

The order marks a small step toward more equitable hiring practices at the federal level.  We encourage private-sector employers to regularly review and modify their recruitment policies and procedures to attract a broader and more inclusive pool of potential applicants.  For example, employers should consider adopting a standardized set of questions when interviewing candidates for the same position to reduce unconscious bias and stay objective in assessing which candidate is most qualified for the position.  Other alternatives to attracting a more diverse candidate pool include writing gender-neutral, inclusive job descriptions for open positions and using “intelligent shortlisting” software to review resumes.

Please contact your trusted MSK attorney for more information about how to employ strategies (consistent with applicable law and best practices) to increase diversity in the workplace. 

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