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Is Our Obsession with College Wrongheaded? Australian Employers Think So

January 26, 2016

A recent post by Liz Burke in news.com.au with the provocative title “University Degrees Irrelevant to Big Employers” offers evidence that several major employers in that country are no longer requiring a college degree of applicants. Why?

Australia Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive officer Kate Carnell said employers found 20-somethings were more qualified than ever before. Graduates were showing up to work with degrees from universities but were “disconnected with the workforce”, she said.

“A number of our members consistently tell us they’re seeing students come out of university or training programs and they might have the academic or theoretical skills, but no skills to work at all. It makes them really hard to employ,” she said.

“General issues are not understanding that a job is about turning up on time every day, not just when you feel like, that it’s about taking direction, and basic things like you’ve got to be well presented and you’ve got to be pleasant.”

After reading Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz I am not surprised by this finding. Students who slavishly work to build a resume to get into the best colleges are often following an algorithm to seek a means to an end without determining the end they want to seek. And in many cases these resume builders have never held a part-time job or figured out what job they want. They possess “…the academic or theoretical skills, but no skills to work at all.” 

I also know many people who have a single minded passion for their work, lack college degrees, and have solid social skills that make them excellent employees and could ultimately land them promotions to leadership positions…. and national “celebrity” CEOs like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and the late Steve Jobs are all examples on non-degreed individuals who experienced wild success in the technology fields.

When i first clicked on this article I thought it would focus on outliers like Gates, Zuckerberg, and Jobs… but it seems the trend in turning away from college grads is substantial in Australia:

The 2015 Graduate Careers Australia survey showed more than a quarter of bachelor degree graduates had failed to find work within four months of completing their studies. The money they’re being paid is on the slide, too, with university graduate salaries going down.

Meanwhile, soft skills, such as being personable, adaptable, possessing strong digital skills, and adept at time management are being increasingly valued.

This could be a signal that employers’ are racing to the bottom on wages and no longer showing preference for college grads who are seeking employment as, say, baristas at a coffee shop… but it could also be a signal to public high schools that their relentless emphasis on college prep courses neglects the soft skills employers value most… maybe being “ready to work” requires an opportunity to actually BE in the work force.

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