As the economy continues to falter, and jobs become harder to keep, and even harder to find, colleges and post secondary training programs are experiencing significant increases in enrollment. The value of post secondary education is obvious to just about anyone, and when jobs are scarce, empty seats in classrooms get scarce, too.
Even in good times, most employers realize that a high school graduate, without additional training, simply isn’t employable beyond basic manual labor. Computer skills, complex computation, and sophisticated oral and written communication are more important than ever, not to mention the job-specific skills required of technicians, designers, analysts and so many others.
Most employers realize that it is more cost effective to hire well-trained, qualified employees, than it is to hire untrained workers and then train them. Employees who need training realize that the cheapest, most effective way to get training is to go to college, or some other post secondary program, especially one that is subsidized by the government.
Surprisingly, there are many careers a person can follow without formal post-secondary training, but due to the complexity of preparing for a career, formal training is the only viable option. One does not have to go to law school to be a lawyer, but the bar exam is so difficult that the best way to prepare is to spend three years in law school. There is no requirement for a banker to graduate from a business school, but the most highly paid jobs in banking increasingly go to people with MBA degrees. Even technical jobs are easier to get with post-secondary education. It takes a full year longer to qualify to take the FAA’s airplane mechanic exams by on-the-job training than it does by going to school that teaches an approved curriculum. Of course, if someone wants to fly helicopters, the only viable way to learn is to join the military.
Beyond this, employers tend to increase the certifications or credentials necessary to be hired, simply because they are good “discriminators.” A person with a college degree usually has an edge in the competition for a job that does not absolutely require a degree, simply because the degree “looks better” on a resume than no degree. When an employer has one job opening, and several dozen or more people apply for that position, it’s a lot easier to narrow the number of people interviewed by picking only the three or four “most highly” qualified applicants than to spend days interviewing everyone who is minimally qualified. Over time, a “discriminator” tends to become required, not because the job itself requires it, but because most workers realize the value of the credential, and then only a few apply for the jobs with only the minimum required skills.
Economists call the increase in credentials required to do any given job “credential creep.” They note that, whenever an employer is faced with choosing an employee among several qualified candidates, the employer is likely to choose someone with something “extra,” like a college degree, experience in a different job or industry that demonstrates management skills, or military service. Eventually, those “extras” become necessary for the job, and included in the job description, even though the actual work does not require the degree.
Of course, credentials alone do not guarantee employment. A successful job applicant will demonstrate to the employer a combination of work experience and credentials, appropriate to the job being sought. Without experience, it’s rarely possible to obtain anything but entry-level employment. A graduate of Columbia University, and Harvard Law School certainly couldn’t get a job skippering a fishing boat, without at least several summers of deck hand experience, any more than a commercial fisherman with 20 years experience out on the water, but no degree, could expect to land a fat job with a Chicago law firm.
To be successful in the work place of the third millennium, workers need to constantly upgrade their skills and credentials, but they also need to build a record of solid workplace achievement and advancement. Now, with unemployment up, and job openings down, both experience and education are more important than ever.
Dr. Steve Gillon is business professor at the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College
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