‘Some prospective employers no longer hire on the basis of qualifications’


Skills not Degrees?

How important is a university degree to land a job in today’s workplace? According to a recent study by LinkedIn, it is not as important as most people assume.

The study found that executives at tech giants such as Apple, Google and Netflix had begun to question whether degrees actually prepared people for the work they would do. Prominent companies no longer give much importance to degrees as a prerequisite to landing an interview.

“Getting a job at today’s IBM does not always require a college degree,” the company’s CEO, Ginni Rometty, has asserted. “What matters most is relevant skills.”

They hire based on the skills people bring to the table – whether they have degrees or not.

Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, said at the White House during the first American Workforce Policy Advisory Board meeting: “Our company, as you know, was founded by a college drop-out, so we have never really thought a college degree was the thing you had to have to do well.”

Half of Apple’s US workforce do not have degrees. Cook’s view is that colleges do not really prepare students with skills they need most. As shocking as this is, it is not exclusive to the US. Most countries, including South Africa, are experiencing the same trend, where prospective employers are no longer hiring on the basis of qualifications, but on marketable skills.

This has major consequences for university graduates. According to Statistics SA, more than a third of graduates are unemployed.

The question is, what can be done to remedy the situation?

I believe the solution is for educational institutes to implement a three-tiered education system that focuses on more than just theory.

At the base of the three-tiered system will be a sound basis of theoretical knowledge, which most tertiary institutes do offer. Unfortunately, most stop at this level.

One level up from theory are practical, marketable skills that enable a candidate to “hit the ground running” at any place of work, the “most-needed” skills that Tim Cook refers to.

Because the market is highly competitive and businesses are under tremendous pressure to deliver, most need people to get working as soon as humanly possible.

As far as the third tier goes, we need to understand this in the context of two major trends in the past decade or so.

Employment levels globally are on a steady decline. The reason for this is, among other things, that in the new, digitally-driven economy, companies are able to adopt a level of automation not possible before, leading to highly streamlined enterprises with relatively small footprints.

The upside to this is that, thanks to technology, the barriers to starting a new business have all but disappeared. Today it is possible to start an online business with nothing more than a smartphone and a data connection – be it a retail, consulting or service business. All that is required is an entrepreneurial drive.

The future of South Africa’s economy rides on small businesses, which employ about 30% of the country’s workforce.

This is still small in comparison with more developed countries, where SMME’s employ upwards of 50% of the workforce.

A combination of the three tiers of education will, over the next decade, not only reduce the unemployment rate, but produce a highly qualified, highly skilled, entrepreneurial and innovative workforce that will drive the economy to new heights.


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