Economic and technological changes favor skills-building programs

(TNS) — “Skills, not schools” may not be the most well-known motto of our time, but it is becoming increasingly popular among employers. A growing number are willing to consider applicants for high-paying white-collar jobs based on what they can do rather than whether they have a bachelor’s degree.

Earlier this month, technology consultancy Accenture announced that it was significantly expanding its one-year apprenticeship program in the United States for training in areas such as data engineering and cybersecurity. . Since 2016, the company has hired 1,200 apprentices, most of whom did not have a four-year college degree.

In 2020, Google began offering six-month certificate programs during the pandemic at extremely low or even free cost that train people in areas such as data analysis, program management, and UX design. . Program managers typically earn over $90,000 per year. Vocational training isn’t new, but Google’s program aims to replace the need for higher education by viewing completion of these courses as equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in relevant fields.

Last June, I wrote about the effect of too many jobs that only required a high school diploma or post-secondary education now requiring a four-year bachelor’s degree. This “degree inflation” is a problem for students who choose not to go to college or who cannot afford college. It is also a big problem for 40% of students in four-year institutions who never complete their studies, despite the time and money invested.

Degree inflation isn’t working for employers either, according to a Harvard Business School report. They end up paying more for college graduates who are less satisfied with their jobs, leave faster, and often don’t do as good a job as workers without a degree.

This is not the case in many European countries, where strong school-employer partnerships allow students to enter fields such as banking, software development, hotel management and social work without a four-year degree. year.

COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement are proving powerful forces that are beginning to move the needle in the right direction. The pandemic has created a labor shortage that has prompted companies to rethink their job requirements. And the push for racial equity has persuaded many employers to commit to a more diverse workforce. With more than half of black students dropping out, it makes sense to hire based on ability rather than credentials.

An effort called OneTen was launched in late 2020 by executives from Merck and IBM, with the goal of hiring or promoting one million black workers without four-year degrees in that decade. The goal is for them to find “family support” careers, emphasizing hiring skills. More than 50 employers have signed. The Rework American Business Network, an initiative of the Markle Foundation, encourages employers to put more emphasis on skills when hiring. So far it has attracted a handful of member companies, but they are big companies, including AT&T, Kaiser Permanente and Microsoft.

American workers without a college degree have lost ground on many fronts — partly because of degree inflation and partly because so many skilled manufacturing jobs, which were once a pathway to the middle class, have moved to the stranger. The Obama administration, whose education policies were heavily influenced by Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ mantra that 21st century jobs would increasingly require college degrees, pushed an ever-growing number of students to attend university.

President Trump insisted – wrongly – that he could stem the flight of manufacturing jobs and bring some back to the United States. To his credit, however, he also signed an executive order a few months into the pandemic that requires many federal jobs to be hired to emphasize proficiency rather than formal education, noting that “the overreliance on academic credentials excludes capable candidates and undermines labor market efficiency”.

Forcing a return to a manufacturing economy has always been a fantasy. But it’s impractical and inefficient to force students to commit years – and go into debt – that they don’t need to succeed in their careers.

The Biden administration, unfortunately, has not taken the lead on the skills movement, not the schools, when it could embed this approach in federal education policy. Governor Gavin Newsom, likewise, should do more to make California a leader in the white-collar learning and skills movement.

Another possible benefit of the shift to prioritizing skills over degrees: Colleges, noting that American families are finding ways to succeed without them and concerned about keeping enrollment stable, could be incentivized to end the cumbersome administrative and dependence on the availability of loans that has been fueling soaring tuition fees.

Look, I’m a big fan of college education. I was blessed with one and so were my kids (with lots of financial grumbling and moaning on my part). And there’s more to college than just training for a good job. The wealth of in-depth knowledge, active research and thought-provoking discussions is worth the effort in and of itself. An educated population capable of thinking critically is essential to preserving our democracy.

I also fear that the skills-not-schools movement is becoming an excuse to halt the push for educational equity and undermine efforts to ensure that more black and Latino students are qualified for four-year university degrees.

But college is not everyone’s dream. Not having a college degree should not be an automatic disqualifier for high-paying jobs. We are beginning to seriously question the decades-long trend of degree inflation. Let’s continue like this.

©2022 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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