It’s a tired trope to cite the percentage of English majors that are working as a Starbucks barista, but the point is well taken. With 44% of recent college graduates working a job that doesn’t require a degree, higher education must be missing something. And while the question is simple, the answer is less so.
What is it that needs to be gleaned from the months or years between graduation and someone’s first “big-kid” job?
Coming out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for careers only to be forced into a low-wage position just to make ends meet or start servicing tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of student loans just doesn’t make sense. With colleges offering fast-track degrees, externships, internships, co-ops, etc. why is it that there’s still a gap between education and employment?
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You’ll start to find the picture becoming more clear by looking at the most recent trends. There are some previously basic truths that may not be basic nor true anymore in regards to what employers are looking for. The very word “education” may not fully suffice to describe the assortment of knowledge and skills one needs to arm themselves within a professional setting this day in age.
So what are they looking for?
Education has long been about being well-rounded. It’s about developing critical thinking skills, researching to prove out a set of assumptions, and learning how to convey that knowledge to others. These are the soft skills that come as a byproduct rather than a direct or overtly pursued result of education.
In many ways, these soft skills increase in demand in the job market at a faster pace than the particular knowledge base that may be at the heart of someone’s major or degree. These are also a valuable metric for a prospective employee’s flexible skills- to be able to teach is to be able to be taught- a mirror of one’s ability to learn new processes and technologies quickly. These being “intangible” and only able to be proven overtime on the job has necessitated a longer runway in getting a recent grad to where they want to go.
In many ways, it also offloads the cost and risk of a company having to test the waters of new employees onto “sub-degree” employers. In short, education does not mitigate the risk that someone doesn’t have these soft skills.
Education vs. Training
The other side of the coin is training- specifically in a practical rather than theoretical way. The increase in soft skills is only overshadowed by the increase in demand for technical skills. In a recent study by Upwork, the addition of technical skills can fully double the amount of available job offers. We see this all the time without identifying it as such- the unbundling of degrees- a creation of micro-credentials to put together a more comprehensive picture of what applicants can, and, as importantly- can’t do.
The addition of technical skills can fully double the amount of available job offers.Noted By Upwork
Take an MBA- high level and theoretical skills that are of course invaluable in any business setting. For multiple generations, you’re hard-pressed to find them out of work or anything less than extremely high demand. While this still holds true, it is not the silver bullet that it used to be.
The question you ask an MBA has now become “How do you manage and optimize in a technology-driven workplace if you don’t have the technical skills?”
They may possess 6 years worth of soft skills, but without technical skills, it becomes abstract and even academic. The confluence of these new realities bring us to an inescapable truth- degrees, while valuable, are far less valuable and a far cry from a job guarantee than ever before.
The fact of the matter is that degrees are static- the job market is not. Degrees often collect dust in the staid walls of their owners, but true credentials- skills that are used, augmented and scaled- require constant validation.
The pace at which any industry changes has rendered degrees subject to something entirely new- expiration dates. Today’s most in-demand jobs didn’t even exist a mere decade ago. Your job, duties, roles, and responsibilities are dynamic and constantly changing. A degree shows that you have the knowledge base, whereas the true skills and micro-credentials show you know how to handle them.
Now the key is how will you put together a plan for education, credentialing, and validation?
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