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Trump signs order prioritizing job skills over college degree in government hiring

Michael Collins
USA TODAY
The News Herald

WASHINGTON – A college degree will no longer give Americans a leg up when seeking some jobs with the federal government.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday that will overhaul the government’s hiring practices so that a job applicant’s skills will be given priority over a college degree.

Administration officials say the shift will allow the government to hire a more inclusive workforce based on skill instead of a person’s education level.

“This will ensure that we’re able to hire based on talent and expand our universe to qualified candidates and ensure a more equitable hiring process,” Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior advisor, told reporters on Friday.

Ivanka Trump is co-chair of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which was created in 2018 and tasked with recommending ways to improve job training. The president signed the order during the board’s meeting on Friday.

“The federal government will no longer be narrowly focused on where you went to school, but the skills and talents that you bring to the job," Trump said.

The federal government is the nation’s largest employer with 2.1 million civilian workers.

Ivanka Trump said the new hiring practice will show that the government is leading by example as it tries to recruit and retain the best and brightest workers. She and other administration officials have pushed to increase opportunities for apprenticeships and have promoted such training and vocational education as alternatives to traditional two-year or four-year college degree programs.

The shift in hiring protocols will recognize the value of learning regardless of whether it occurs on the job or in the classroom, said Brooke Rollins, acting director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, which oversees the president’s domestic agenda.

The government is not eliminating the college requirement entirely but instead will stress skills in jobs where having a degree is less important. Two-thirds of Americans do not have a college degree.

A college or graduate degree is necessary to work in many occupations, but the need for educational credentials is less certain for many other fields, said Michael Rigas, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management.

Trump’s executive order directs federal agencies to shift from vetting job candidates based largely on their educational credentials and written questionnaires and move toward using assessment methods that will more directly determine whether they possess the knowledge and skills to do the job, Rigas said.

The government also will overhaul job qualification standards in cases where they are limiting opportunity for those with diverse backgrounds, Rigas said.

“The federal government should welcome job seekers with needed skills, regardless of how they acquired them,” he said.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the workforce advisory board’s other co-chair, said the need for skills training and apprenticeships is as great as it was before the coronavirus pandemic forced millions of people out of work, pushing the national unemployment rate above 13% in May.

“Americans are eager to get to work but they need our help,” Ross said.