#98: The Myth Of The Skills Gap & Degree Inflation

😷 An exploration of work, life & what matters

June 27th, 2020 - Las Palmas, Spain

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#1 Degree Inflation and the Fake Talent Gap

Trump has signed an executive order pushing the federal government to prioritize skills over degree requirements where appropriate. This builds on the moves of many other companies removing degree requirements for hiring.

This is likely driven by a couple of things:

  1. An increasing number of people with valuable skills (e.g. coding) that may not have learned them through traditional channels

  2. A growing disconnect between a hyper-specialized labor market and degrees that do not track to those skills of the jobs

A degree, especially a masters degree, is still a good measure of ambition and dedication to work but with the increasing costs of such educational credentials and the reduction in the types of well-paid middle-class jobs, degree requirements have increasingly become a device to destroy opportunity for those needing it most.

Skillist, founded by Ananth Kasturiraman and Caroline Fay, has built a platform around skill-based hiring instead of degree requirements and have been able to open up new pipelines to talented individuals that companies wouldn’t otherwise consider. They report that more than 50% of their candidates come from under-represented groups.

You often hear talent leaders talk about a “skills gap.” A lot of this is due to degree inflation, which was powerfully shown in a 2017 report from Harvard. They looked at the difference between the credentials of the existing workforce and the job postings for those same jobs.

While only one in three people have degrees in the US, more than 70% of all job postings required a degree.

For production workers, they found a 51% degree gap:

Removing degree requirements is not enough. The way people glorify a college education ensures that people without degrees are always aware of what they lack. Even if you remove degree requirements from a job posting, companies rarely have any talent outreach channels to reach people outside of their traditional channels.

My working hypothesis for the last few years is that the job market is disconnected from our work myths. The recovery from the 2008 recession was great for people with degrees, but mediocre, if not a tragedy for others. For workers with only a high school education, the 2008 recession put a permanent dent in future opportunity.

These trends rarely get talked about. Why? Because most people doing research and writing publicly have college degrees and likely have friends with college degrees. The problem is invisible.

In a time when the number of people who will be better off than their parents has dropped below a coin flip its clear that we need to reimagine what we are trying to achieve through our labor economy and our education system.

In the past couple of years I’ve worked with multiple people without college degrees. With limited resources, I need to hire for skills. In the ten years I spent in the corporate world it is odd to think that I don’t ever remember seeing a resume without a college degree.

A couple years ago I was talking to a CEO about their diversity program and he was outlining the efforts they were making at five elite colleges. I asked him if he would ever consider hiring someone without a degree.


Would you?

#2 Everyday Genius

Gary Hamel urges us to think past policy proposals and reimagine the organization to unleash the human potential within

While some of these ideas have merit, they don’t address what we believe is the root of the problem: the widespread assumption that low-wage jobs are filled by minimally capable people—a prejudice that has denied millions of employees the opportunity to enhance their skills and exercise their minds.

If you’ve read Reinventing Organizations, you’ll recognize a lot of the ideas as familiar. If not, its worth a read!

#3 Storytelling

An essay about the professional class and its own genre fiction:

Bureaucracies have established paths to power, and genre fiction is used to signal status along those routes. The key format is the résumé: a document designed to get as close to a lie as possible, while main­taining enough plausibility for the applicant to avoid laughing during job interviews. “I was a customer-relationship manager who facilitated logistics from warehouse to consumer-facing placements.” Oh, so you stocked shelves?

Outlandish business jargon persists pre­cisely because everyone recognizes it as outlandish business jargon. It provides a common framework to signal status.

And the small business owner as weirdo

Small business owners are often loons, wackos, and general nut­jobs. Unlike the professional class, their personalities vary because their job isn’t dependent on how others view them. Even when they’re wealthy or successful, they often don’t act “professional.”

#4 Spiritual Colonialism

Interesting essay from Vinay Gupta about our modern economy and “spiritual colonialism.” He argues that our system drives people to avoid loss:

Although the entire game appears to be about greed, about the lust for more, in actual fact the big motivation for most of these people is the desire to avoid eventual losses to inflation and their own lifestyle spends.

…and how a tendency towards “spiritual colonialism” isn’t helping:

Spiritual colonialism is the act of using traditional spiritual methodologies from other cultures to advance the goals of capitalism. Once you can see it, you can see it everywhere.

Quite long, but a provocative read on how the west struggles to deal with the externalities of non-stop growth. Full link here.

🐣 I shared two threads on Twitter this week which people seemed to enjoy. Here they are again if you missed them:

Thanks for reading . Until next week.

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