Deloitte is the latest major UK company to announce that its domestic recruiters will no longer consider which university applicants attended. The consulting giant says focusing on where prospective employees got their degree is anti-meritocratic and obstructs the firm’s efforts to hire the best of the best. Quartz reports:
In an effort to boost diversity and social mobility, recruiters for accounting and consulting firm Deloitte will not see the names of job applicants’ schools and universities next year in the UK. […]
Deloitte is the largest of 19 companies in the UK that have signed up to use the Contextual Recruitment System, a tool released last year from recruitment firm Rare that gathers this background data. The goal, the firm says, is to “get much closer to achieving the holy grail of identifying candidates with potential, rather than just with polish.”
This sounds like a very promising change of policy, and we hope that companies on this side of the pond are paying attention. Many Anglo-American employers put far too much weight on educational prestige, passing over well-qualified young people who didn’t have the money, personal connections, or desire to get an elite degree. And as Deloitte seems to recognize, relying on university brand name to sort applicants is inefficient from a business perspective. It may or may not be the case that Oxford graduates make better employees on average than graduates of the University of East London—but even if they did, it would be far better for the company to hire the most promising applicants from both schools, rather than simply relying on how university admission committees (which, in any case, presumably have different criteria from employers) sorted people years earlier.
In the United States (and, to a lesser extent, in the UK), much of our discussion about inequality and mobility revolves around which colleges people go to. Affirmative action debates are so heated in part because people recognize that where one goes to college can have a tremendous impact on job prospects. The federal government has pumped more and more money into subsidized student loans on the belief that earning an expensive credential is required in order to rise into the middle class. But what if we could rearrange our job market so that the skills young Americans have, rather than the college they attended, were the most important factor in the hiring process? It’s probably impossible to do this completely—attending an elite institution will always serve as a kind of signaling device—but even moving modestly in that direction, as Deloitte is, could unleash tremendous potential, for employers, employees, and the higher education system itself.