Should Traditional College Education Matter in the Jobs Market?

College Students

College education has become a focal point in society, no matter where you stand. Those without degrees see them as the stepping stone to a better life — a key that opens doors to untold opportunity. Many employers, on the other hand, see degrees as a requirement to work, an indicator that a person is serious about the jobs market, whether they’re qualified for their position or not. While this is the reality, the question is: should it be? Should college education represent job eligibility in America?

There’s no doubt that education is absolutely necessary for skills acquisition, but here’s an interesting set of statistics: while 72 percent of educational institutions believe they’re adequately preparing students for college, only 45 percent of graduates feel the same way. Additionally, 39 percent of employers around the world are reporting that grads lack the right set of skills for even entry-level jobs. Does this mean that students are being poorly prepared by colleges for the jobs market? Or that the jobs market is setting expectations too high for new hires?

Education is Changing, Technology Evolving

This technical skills gap exists across all sectors, and is exacerbated by employees and students who aren’t staying on top of evolving business technology.

Many hiring managers indicate that employees aren’t keeping up with the skills needed to utilize evolving technology, and that even fewer employees actively seek out available training,

To combat this, educational institutions and their staff need to help create solutions by working more closely with industry advisors. Industry advisory councils have unique opportunities to work directly with technology firms and employers to shape their curriculums according to what employers need.

Because there’s an assumption that the technical skills gap can be solved with more STEM learning, there’s been a resurgence of students in STEM programs in the U.S. — which makes some wonder if students are turning blindly to those subjects without knowing whether or not they actually want to spend the rest of their lives committed to a STEM career of some kind. Instead, they’re attracted to the higher salaries promised by a STEM education.

Starting Pay vs. Student Debt

Students are beginning to recognize that even though STEM majors offer the best ROI, a job in a STEM field isn’t guaranteed. In fact, most STEM graduates don’t even work in their fields of study, negating the financial return that drove them to obtain the degree in the first place. On top of that, they’re left with loads of student debt, and a degree they can’t even fully realize.

“While the average cost for a four-year college is listed at $9,410 per year, most graduates actually end up paying around $127,000 for their degree,” write the experts at MTI. “Of those, at least 20 percent graduate with more than $50,000 in debt and nearly six percent graduate from a four-year university with over $100,000 in student loan debt.”

As such, you’ll see many more fiscally-conscious job applicants coming from community colleges and technical schools who are committed to landing a middle-skills job and training upward. Many other students are turning to online learning, which allows them the flexibility of schedule to keep a job and maintain cash flow.

These students are often just as qualified, for better or worse, as their traditional college-educated counterparts, even though both groups will likely require further training. While businesses might think it’s a waste to have to train employees they feel should already be trained, the simple fact is that you’re going to have to offer on-the-job training for most people with or without a college degree — the skills gap is proving that.

Adaptation is the Name of the Game

Digital disruption has changed the game for nearly everybody, and will likely continue to do so. Everybody is constantly having to train, re-train, and train again as new products and software are introduced into the workplace. The best companies aren’t focused on how far their employees are before they even get in the door, but on how far they can take those employees once they’re there. Adaptation is the name of the game, and employees who prove that they are adaptive and able to change are the ones that hiring organizations should be seeking out.

Employers that invest in training and growing employees are the ones that will succeed in a market rife with change.

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Andrew Heikkila is a tech enthusiast, a futurist, and a business owner from the Pacific Northwest. He believes in the power of technology to guide the world in the right direction, but also understands human fallibility means it won't always be used to these ends. Still, he has hope that people will transcend their natural devices, and become the beings we have the potential to be.

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