Are Degrees Losing Their Worth in Disruptive Job Market?

Sep 17, 2019

Pew Research Center’s 2016 survey, The State of American Jobs, says 87% of workers believe they need to consistently upgrade and calibrate their skills to keep up with the changing market demands. Another study by the same group suggested a staggering 30% of respondents believe that present education institutions are not equipped to prepare the workforce for tomorrow. Respondents also said that the best education programs will prepare students to become lifelong learners.

A common consensus is echoing in career corridors that a college degree is no more assurance of lifelong livelihood. The shelf-life of skills has shrunk to six years and it is still plunging. There has never been a more demanding time for businesses to train their existing employees and also educate the future workforce. Ray Schroeder, associate vice chancellor for online learning at the University of Illinois, Springfield says “It is projected that those entering the workforce today will pursue four or five different careers (not just jobs) over their lifetime. These career changes will require retooling, training and education. The adult learners will not be able to visit physical campuses to access this learning; they will learn online.”

But does that mean degrees lose their worth in coming times? Not really. Education and continuous skill upgradation have emerged as the two parallel piers supporting the future job market emblem.

Skills for Future:

As the problem grows, solutions take root too. Though still in their lackadaisical nascent stages, education institutions and certification bodies have come up with various courses at community colleges, on-job training or certification programs. Soft skills beef up the proposition for long term and technology skills form the core value proposition for the medium term. P21 (Partnership for 21st-century learning) has identified the following four key soft skills: creativity, critical thinking, communication and, collaboration. Respondents in the Pew Research Survey said “data and algorithms, to implement 3-D modeling and work with 3-D printers, or to implement the newly emerging capabilities in artificial intelligence and augmented and virtual reality” will help in the medium term.

Value of Education:

Less educated, young and minority workers are at a greater risk to become or remain unemployed. In August 2018, the percentage of unemployed college grads was 2.1% and the percentage of unemployed high school grads was 3.9%. Recession impacts poorly educated workers worse. During the 2008 recession employment among high school graduates plunged by 5.6% while employment among college graduates slumped by 1%. A 2018 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis showed an inverse relationship between employment and education level.

Growing Relevance of Certifications:

The Fourth Industrial revolution has served us a mammoth skill challenge on accelerated time platform. Jason Hong, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University says “There are two major components needed for a new kind of training program at this scale: political will and a proven technology platform. Even assuming that the political will (and budget) existed, there’s no platform today that can successfully train large numbers of people.” MOOCs, with their high dropout rates and poor instruction quality, offer little hope.

Greater number of academicians and business doyens are now voicing their agreement for faster and better skill upgradation tools and facilities. The most resounding one among these are for certifications.

William J. Ward, a university communications professor, @DR4WARD, said “Online and credentialing systems are more transparent and do a better job on delivering skills. People with new types of credentialing systems are seen as more qualified than traditional four-year and graduate programs.” Fredric Litto, a professor emeritus of communications and longtime distance-learning expert from the University of São Paulo says “We are now in the transitional stage of employers gradually reducing their prejudice in the hiring of those who studied at a distance, and moving in favor of such ‘graduates’ who, in the workplace, demonstrate greater proactiveness, initiative, discipline, collaborativeness – because they studied online.”

While education still forms the foundation of career castle, certifications can build up its superstructure and pretty fast too. The latter has proved its merit and relevance in addressing the current skill crisis. Big business leaders have already realized this and are increasingly incorporating them in their recruitment and promotion processes. How fast they proliferate and get integrated in the small and medium business fabric needs to be seen. That brings us to the question - Are you certified yet?

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