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HB2196 HD1 could help fill jobs, but new text should go

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the House Committee on Finance on Feb. 27, 2024.
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Feb. 27, 2024, 2 p.m.
Hawaii State Capitol
Conference Room 308 and Videoconference

To: House Committee on Finance
      Rep. Kyle T. Yamashita, Chair
      Rep. Lisa Kitagawa, Vice-Chair

From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
            Ted Kefalas, Director of Strategic Campaigns

TESTIMONY IN SUPPORT OF HB2196 HD1 — RELATING TO PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT

Aloha Chair Yamashita, Vice-Chair Kitagawa and members,

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its support for HB2196 HD1, which would prohibit a state agency from requiring a college degree for any position unless the degree is relevant to licensing or certification relating to that position, or if the position requires specialized knowledge, skills or subject-matter expertise relevant to the degree.

This bill has the potential to help fill state vacancies and assist residents in obtaining employment. However, the addition of language stating that a degree may be required, “when the position in question requires specialized knowledge, skills, or subject-matter expertise relevant to the degree,” has the potential to create confusion and undermine the intent of the bill.

A degree will nearly always include access to specialized knowledge and skills, but it does not follow that it will be the only way to acquire them. Thus, the vague wording may cause a cautious agency to maintain degree requirements even where they might not be necessary.

We suggest a minor alteration that would preserve the intent of the amendment and the original bill by instead specifying that a degree might also be required “when the position in question requires specialized knowledge, skills, or subject-matter expertise that can be obtained only through a college degree.

By making this change, the Committee could ensure that degree requirements would not accidentally exclude applicants who have obtained necessary skills or expertise via experience rather than a degree.

This is especially important as the intent of this bill is to eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment for those who possess the required skills for a position but lack a college degree.

A bachelor’s degree is not necessary for many state jobs, even though it is often required. A degree may indicate a certain set of skills, but it is by no means the only indicator.

A study from the Burning Glass Institute and Harvard University researchers noted that  “when employers drop degrees, they become more specific about skills in job postings, spelling out the soft skills that may have been assumed to come with a college education, such as writing, communication and being detail-oriented.”[1]

Maryland, Utah, Pennsylvania, Alaska and many other states have all enacted policies aimed at removing arbitrary degree requirements for state jobs.[2] Hawaii should follow their lead.

For the record, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that only about a third of Hawaii residents age 25 or older have bachelor’s degrees.[3]

Similarly, the nonprofit Opportunity@Work reports that individuals who do not possess four-year bachelor degrees but who are “skilled through alternative routes” made up 59% of Hawaii’s workforce in 2019, compared to 53% of the workforce nationwide.[4]

Given this data, it is clear that HB2196 HD1 — especially our proposed new language — would broaden employment opportunities for local residents.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
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[1] Joseph Fuller, Christina Langer, Julia Nitschke, Layla O’Kane, Matt Sigelman and Bledi Taska, “The Emerging Degree Reset: How the Shift to Skills-Based Hiring Holds the Keys to Growing the U.S. Workforce at a Time of Talent Shortage,” Burning Glass Institute, 2022, p. 3.
[2] Kathryn Moody, “Pennsylvania ends 4-year degree requirement for majority of state jobs,” HR Dive, Jan. 24, 2023; and Joey Klecka and Elena Symmes, “4-year degree no longer required for some state jobs,” Alaska’s New Source, Feb. 14, 2023.
[3]QuickFacts: Hawaii,” U.S. Census Bureau, accessed March 20, 2023.
[4] Communication with Ashley Edwards, Director for Data Services at Opportunity@Work, Aug. 17, 2022.

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