In the future, will acquiring relevant skills matter more than earning a degree?
There is much debate over whether the acquisition of skills will be more important than a degree in the future. Source: Unsplash

There has been alot of talk about the need for graduates to acquire certain ‘soft skills’ if they are to survive in a future fueled by technologies such as automation and robotics.

These include critical thinking, collaborative thinking, innovation, relationship-building, communication, and more.

This has prompted discussions over whether college degrees will even be relevant for the next generation. An article by BigThink speculated that the traditional university setting will eventually become extinct.

“With antiquated systems still in place, a fading relevancy, and inability to keep up with an evolving workforce — the degree system we’ve used as a crutch for merit this century is coming to its end.

“Increasingly there are more and more renowned and prestigious companies that no longer require a college degree for work. Recently Glassdoor created a list of major companies where a degree wasn’t required. Some included powerhouses such as Apple and Google.”

Corporations are starting to see that a college degree doesn’t necessarily equip students with the relevant skills and knowledge needed to survive in the future.

Rising university tuition costs and student loan debt, as well as different career pathways such as  degree apprenticeships, are also causing the college-age generation to look towards other means for securing their futures.

Inside Higher Ed reported, “The US Labor Department is expecting that by the end of the year we will be facing a shortfall of more than two million skilled workers in our economy. Corporations are already feeling the pinch.

“For these openings they are no longer looking for white-collar or blue-collar workers, but, instead “new-collar” workers: “an individual who develops the technical and soft skills needed to work in technology jobs through nontraditional education paths.”

“These workers do not have a four-year degree from college. Instead, the new-collar worker is trained through community colleges, vocational schools, software boot camps, technical certification programs, high school technical education and on-the job apprentices and internships.”

Google recently launched an IT support specialist certificate through Coursera which has attracted “tens of thousands of prospective applicants” in the field of IT support. Federal data revealed that the annual starting salary for these jobs are approximately US$52,000.

Inside Higher Ed also noted, “While this shift in employment requisites develops, we are now in the eighth straight year of declines in college enrollment. Hundreds of colleges have closed their doors in the past few years, and hundreds more are teetering on the brink.”

But does this mean that college degrees are no longer useful?

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner speculated that the acquisition of skills is important, but might not come at “the exclusion of degrees”.

“There are qualities…that have a tendency to be completely overlooked when people are sifting through résumés or LinkedIn profiles. And yet, increasingly, we find that these are the kinds of people that make the biggest difference within our organization.

“Increasingly I hear this mantra: Skills, not degrees. It’s not skills at the exclusion of degrees. It’s just expanding our perspective to go beyond degrees.”

Universities need to innovate to make degrees more relevant to tomorrow. While many are stepping up to include more experiential learning, more must be done to ensure students are acquiring the relevant skills that corporations are looking for.

They must work together with corporations to develop industry-relevant courses to ensure graduates aren’t left behind and become part of the future eco-system.

Jamie Merisotis, President and CEO of the Lumina Foundation, said, ““There’s a rising demand for talent, and colleges and universities are a major engine of talent. I continue to argue that they will be for the foreseeable future, but their position is much more precarious than it was a few years ago.

“What we’ve seen is an ecosystem emerging here of post-secondary learning where colleges and universities are a key element, but not the sole element. Workplace-based learning, direct-to-consumer programs, etc., all of those things are sort of part of this emerging ecosystem.”

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