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    « Going to States | Main | Knowledge to go »

    Does that job really require a college degree?

    Over the weekend I was catching up on blog reading and this post, Only 20 Percent of Workers Qualify for High Demand Jobs,  on the Perfect Labor Storm 2.0 blog caught my attention.

    The post describes a dire-sounding situation, especially for the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed - there areFlickr- bgottsab lots of available jobs, but a shortage of candidates with the requisite education and skills to fill said jobs. From the referenced post:

    Today's long-term jobs crisis is not about the current financial meltdown. It is about an accelerating talent showdown. The basic cause is that unprecedented technological advances are ever more rapidly transforming the world of work. This will continue to raise the U.S. talent ante for people seeking employment or for businesses that need to fill high-skill jobs. The U.S. Department of Labor finds that 62 percent of all U.S. jobs now require two-year or four-year degrees and higher, or special postsecondary occupation certificates or apprenticeships. By 2020 we can expect that these talent requirements will increase to include 75 percent of U.S. jobs.

    And in the post we learn that it is not just the formal education requirement that trips up many job seekers, it is a more fundamental and structural issue:

    Today's long-term jobs crisis is not about the current financial meltdown. It is about an accelerating talent showdown. The basic cause is that unprecedented technological advances are ever more rapidly transforming the world of work. This will continue to raise the U.S. talent ante for people seeking employment or for businesses that need to fill high-skill jobs.

    The general slant of the piece, and most of what you read in similar 'companies can't find the skilled employees they need' articles lately is that the US education system, from private elementary schools to online PhD programs is failing, and has not reacted with sufficient speed and aggressiveness to the changing global and national economic conditions, and that it is sending its graduates out to battle unprepared in a market that requires capability and skills that they simply do not possess.


    But there is a part of the equation that consistently bothers me.  In articles like this, and in the discussion that ensues, there is hardly ever recognition of the role and responsibility that the employer bears.  When a new product is developed and fails to succeed in the market, can organizations get away with blaming the consumers? Do we look fondly back on these 'before their time' offerings as nothing more than quirky bits of nostalgia?

    When product development comes up with an idea for a product that simply can't be engineered and manufactured at the needed cost/timeframe/quality that the market demands, does the organization and the people involved not see any consequences from the failed attempt?

    But somehow in this 'we can't find the skilled workers we need' debate, the corporation(s) seem to get off scot free.  But they are 'selling' something here as well, the opportunity to work, get compensated, and to learn new skills in exchange for an employee's time, attention, and dedication. If they are unable to find an adequate 'market' for this offering, why aren't they held to task (at least partially) as well?

    In 'Rework' the co-founders of 37signals advise organizations to forget artificial 'years of experience' minimums, and to drop formal education requirements.  In 'Delivering Happiness' Tony Hseih, CEO of Zappos.com describes in detail a talent 'pipeline' process that allows Zappos to concentrate their external hiring on entry level positions, and though on the job experience and training continue to develop future management and leadership talent.

    These successful organizations do not set artificially high barriers to entry.

    So I will ask again - does that job REALLY require a college degree?  Or 7-10 years of progressively more responsibility in the specific market and industry?

    If there aren't enough buyers for what you are selling, it seems to me that is at least partly if not mostly your problem.




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    Reader Comments (24)

    Right on, Steve. Which is why private industry can and should invest in the basic education of future generations, get folks onboard and train and develop. Be a partner, not a party-pooper. We only keep falling farther and farther behind.

    July 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKevin W. Grossman

    Kevin - I totally agree. The 'we can't find skilled candidates' line absolutely enrages me. Get creative, get innovative, get involved, but do something. The best companies and the ones that will survive and thrive are definitely doing all of that. Thanks very much for reading and for sharing your thoughts.

    July 28, 2010 | Registered CommenterSteve

    It's long been said that with the continuing failure of the American education system, corporations would have to take up the slack. Look at the military. With no draft, they get the dregs out of high school who feel they have no other future. Yet the military discovers their core competencies, trains them for jobs that might not exist for two years (when that new weapons system under development is delivered and doesn't work), and makes them useful workers.

    Also second lieutenants, the essential (and fungible) part of the officer core. If they run short, they can't walk across the hall at the Pentagon and recruit some from another service with a rich options package. No, they have to develop them themselves, and the Army has a good supply chain: West Point, ROTC on college campuses, and Officer Training School for the few recruits who seem worthy.

    Cisco starts its training and recruiting in high school. The rest of corporate America needs to wake up.

    July 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBill Kutik

    i've been thinking about training in the workforce since reading many blogs blaming HR for the sherrod case. the same day that story broke, i was on a plane reading the airline CEO's letter about how much training their pilots get annually. contrast that with the amount of training a manager gets...*ever*.


    July 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfran melmed

    I agree.

    Organizations like Zappos, Dos Gringos, and even small companies like Tribe, Inc. spend time to develop employees and in the process create scalable businesses with the scope and magnitude to attract and retain Gen Y workers among others. One of the advantages Zappos has - and - Tony explains in the book TIGERS Among Us is that employees who are given a clear pathway of advancement from entry level (in Zappos case only entry level are hired) to different departments and up the ladder to key management positions within 7 years stay on. They are committed. They are trained in Zappos' culture and in Zappos' way of doing things and are, therefore, culture fits rather than misfits who cause culture confusion and other problems that many businesses face on a daily basis.

    Jason Levin, CEO of Dos Gringos, says one of his biggest mistakes was hiring a marketing professional from outside the organization who confirmed many of the expected requirements of the job including doing the work without an assistant and who later proved to be a disaster and had to be let go. The net result was a resource draw on time and dollars that had to be repeated until someone within the organization was brought up to speed.

    Bottom line, people want to come to work in the morning feeling challenged but optimistic that their needs (and that includes training) are met so that they are comfortable and enjoy the work they do. And, people who see a clear pathway that matches their optimum talent and potential could not imagine working anywhere else.

    July 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDianne

    I agree totally. When I started with my company 20 years ago as a marketing assistant, there were many people in that role who did not have a Bachelor's degree. The company trained them, and, over time the best of the bunch eventually got promoted into manager and director roles (others left to find similar higher-level positions in other companies). Now, that same organization will not hire anyone without a Bachelor's degree at any level (even for a receptionist) and the training and mentoring is down to nothing. Instead of developing their own employees so they can take on more responsibilities, they hire directors with x-number of years of experience from other companies who know nothing of our processes or our culture. Often (surprise!) these people don't last very long. As soon as they finally become productive, they're off to their next gig. The turnover has got to be costly. In my opinion, if a company invests in the careers of their employees the employees will show much more loyalty to the company. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that in the long run it's got to be more cost-effective than spending big money to keep locating and hiring talent for the same position over and over again.

    July 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarly Davis

    The problem with corporations doing the training is that it takes money, time, planning and resources. Some of that is in short supply and in other cases companies are loathe to do it or too afraid. Out of their comfort zone. Plus, like much of the population they are waiting for the government to bail them out.

    A strategic, forward thinking company would understand that in the long term the short term pain will be worth it, but American business is notorious for its short term perspective.

    The short fall in prepared workers, whether it is in a specific area or just in general skills is a problem across the board and needs to have a coordinated solution. But that won't occur until someone steps and takes the leadership role. Is that big business, small business, the government, or the educational system? I would normally say small business, but what is happening in government regulation activity and taxes will have a chilling effect on small business wanting to address this. So the effort is leaderless.

    July 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Haberman SPHR

    Employers want three basic things: 1) Can you do the job 2) Will you do the job and 3) Will you fit. If you have a piece of paper that says you can, but your performance falls short...the degree is not the problem...or the solution.

    Degrees are great, don't get me wrong, I have 3, but I don't equate parchment to competency. Competency comes from skill building and experience. I like what Diane said above. We can build the talent bench by developing the people already in place.

    When I started #HireFriday, I knew we'd draw a diverse base of people from all walks of life. Sometimes the answer is, get more education, sometimes the answer is, get more experience...often the answer is BE THE BEST at what you currently do.

    My two cents,

    HRMargo Rose http://hrmargo.com

    July 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHRMargo

    Steve's post and all of the comments thus far all make valid points. However there is another view that can be drawn from this subject and Dianne's and Carly's comments point to it - employers need to get better at analyzing what jobs truly require for top performance, understanding the root competencies that drive that performance, and doing a better job of interviewing and assessing for those performance competencies. When that doesn't happen, employers take what they think is the safe road and set superficial standards (education and years of experience) artificially high, thus giving the perception that there are too few quality applicants when hires meeting those standards (but not other unexplored standards) fail. From Dianne's comment, when new hires meet all expected requirements and still fail, might it be because the expected requirements were not the right ones for success? From Carly's comment - "hire directors with x-number of years of experience from other companies who know nothing of our processes or our culture" - the clue to failure may be self-evident when she notes that "the hires know nothing of our processes or our culture". Not trying to take anything away from all the valid points made here, (I work closely with our educational system and see what used to be taught at the high school level now migrating to the community college and higher levels), but simply making the point that there are other contributing factors.

    July 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRon Selewach

    Some serious insight Steve!

    I've recently noticed several marketing positions in pharma companies where the requirements include a dual Masters degree in nursing. Now, I'm certain that there are people with both (and not to discredit their achievements or in any way imply that they should not have those jobs) - but is that one narrow selection of people actually a better choice than a marketer who has access to a panel of nurses?

    I believe that many of the listed job positions may not exist, and the articles might be written specifically as a PR/SEO tactic. That's right, SEO. If you can raise the rankings of your organization by talking online about the positions you have at your company and the tragedy of unqualified labor brings a bit of publicity, why not?

    July 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWendy Flanagan

    I read the Perfect Labor Storm 2.0 blog yesterday, and Lance Haun talked about this topic Wednesday as well (http://rehaul.com/confusion-about-the-war-for-talent/comment-page-1/#comment-3905). You're definitely on to something, and I sure hope, that for the sake of American businesses and American workers, companies become proactive soon.

    July 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeath Davis Havlick

    Thoughtful post,

    As the boomers leave the workforce the gap will become even greater.
    As leaders we too often see our role as having all the answers when it should be knowing the right questions to ask.

    I too enjoyed Toney’s book and thoughts on growing leaders as I discuss in my blog http://nosmokeandmirrors.wordpress.com/2010/07/09/delivering-happiness-proof-%e2%80%a6the-%e2%80%9cgolden-rule%e2%80%9d-is-profitable/

    You can work 60-80 hours per week making all the decisions, ( most poor when we lack focus) or you can equip and empower those closest to the roadblocks to lead us all through them.

    Mark Allen Roberts

    July 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermark allen roberts

    Don't forget that the same jobs with the excessive education and experience requirements aren't typically accompanied by commensurate compensation. Those who do meet the requirements don't work for peanuts.

    July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris H

    Another point to consider is that all this education is paid for by individuals, who may then have loans to pay off. If companies demand extravagent levels of education, then want to pay people as little as possible (basically, milking the situation), it's a dead-end strategy. They're creating vulnerability because as soon as a better offer comes along, they've given top people little reason to stay. The only way placing such high demands on candidates can possibly work is if you follow up with an amazing company culture, opportunity and benefits - companies that do this can arguably afford to be picky. Everyone else should focus on practical and humane.

    July 31, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterworking girl

    @Bill - Thanks for making the comparison to the military model, it makes perfect sense. I did not realize that Cisco also has a pipeline strategy, but I can see why and how it can be made to work.

    @fran - The Sherrod case bugged me as well. There were the expected 'where was HR' set of pieces written with almost certainly no knowledge of the inside communications.

    @Dianne - Thanks for sharing those additional examples. I wonder how the success of Zappos and others that demonstrate a multi-year path and plan reconciles with the commonly understood ideas about job hopping and shorter tenures at organizations in general.

    @Carly - Thanks for your observations from your experience. It does sound old-fashioned, and perhaps it is, but your experience (and others) demonstrate it still can be a successful approach.

    @Mike - Thanks for your thoughts. I agree, the problem is so complex and large, that figuring out who or what entity can lead is incredibly frustrating.

    @Margo - I think you make some great points. There are lots of solutions out there, and the trick is finding the correct one for a given situation.

    @Ron - Great points, and I think you are correct in stating that often organizations don't know what they are really looking for or how to identify it. So setting barriers like degrees and years of experience proxy for more sophisticated screening criteria.

    @Wendy - Could be true.

    @Heath - Thanks - I noticed Lance's piece as well. Funny how this issue is getting more play lately.

    @Mark - thanks very much for sharing the link

    @Chris - Thanks and a very true statement

    @Laura - Right, in that scenario of a kind of imbalance, employees are sure to bolt as soon as something better comes along. Totally agree.

    July 31, 2010 | Registered CommenterSteve

    Bravo! Makes the case for business/industry to aggressively partner with secondary and post-secondary schools to help build a work-ready, entry-level labor pool as a process for growing future employees.

    July 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Dimmett

    Does anyone think that requiring a Bachelors Degree for many unnecessary positions might be a passive way for employers to discriminate against older workers?

    August 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDan Boersma

    I belatedly came across this excellent thread today.
    SInce I started out in the early 70s, I have observed the progressive inflation of employment requirements. This is matched (or driven?) by increasing numbers of students vying for university places that, in turn, are becoming more and more scarce and expensive.
    Kids are under immense pressure to continue through tertiary education, rather than seek employment after high school or even to follow the "old-fashioned" route of an apprenticeship. The vast numbers taking this last option fuelled much of the industrial growth of the 20th century. Apprenticeships are the most overt and comprehensive form of skills development by employers and I am pleased to see, in the UK at least, a resurgence of interest in this career option for youngsters.
    In my own field of IT, most technical training is provided 'in house' after recruitment. However selection of new staff is based on the "milk-round" of universities, to entice new honours graduates. Employers don't canvass high schools for brilliant 18-year old A-level students, as I believe they should.
    I despair at the number of people in roles that are basically administrative, who have degrees (or degree-level skills) which are not leveraged at all. Their degree is what got them through the recruitment sift, but not what they need for the job.
    Thanks, Steve, for this well articulated post.

    September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Thomson

    Steve - thanks for referencing my blog article. I'm especially pleased at the response you received. I'd like clarify my position. I'm not advocating that 2 and 4 year degree qualify anyone for a position. But clearly what students learn in most post-secondary education better prepares them for the workforce. Quite frankly, college might not be required for so many positions if high schools were doing their jobs. But with a 30% drop-out rate and literacy rates at graduation even worse, a 2 year degree is required just to prepare students for the most basic work. I've also written several other blogs that further explain my position. We're experiencing a structural meltdown of the job markets. Many of the jobs being created absolutely require advanced education - technology, health care, engineering. But shortages are being experienced in jobs that don't require 4 or more years of post-high school education. Some of the shortages are not the fault of the employer or employee. Many of my clients have offered jobs to candidates who unfortunately can't afford to travel or relocate because their homes are "under water." Others cannot afford to accept the position because the wages being offered are less than what the candidate requires to live on. Is it employer's responsibility to pay an employee more than the value they bring to the job because the employee requires more money than the market will bear. Other out-of-work or underemployed workers also have not taken any personal responsibility for their education. No one is entitled to an education or training. But everyone is entitled to an opportunity. That's what employers offer. It's the candidate or employee's responsibility to manage their career. The best companies to work for do offer training and education as an opportunity for employees to take advantage of. But many employees believe if the employer doesn't pay 100% of the training and then increase wages upon completion then it's not worth it. So while I agree many employers share culpability in their inability to fill open positions, many high quality employers are struggling because they do set high standards both for technical skills but also personal effectiveness - which includes dependability, healthy lifestyles, and collaborative skills. In reality, the employers who aren't at least providing learning opportunities for workers are failing themselves. Which brings me to the current state of the market - businesses are failing because of a poor management and bad attitudes toward employees which only creates more unemployment; and many employees still have a sense of entitlement and unrealistic expectations that skills they had just a few years ago are enough to secure to secure middle income jobs going forward. Thanks again for referencing the post and starting this conversation.

    September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIra S Wolfe

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