Employers go public wanting skills over qualifications. What's up?

So how does this work? We are told from the start of high school that we need to get as qualified as possible to get good jobs. Now the country’s biggest employers are telling us they don’t need degrees. What’s going on?

Recently between one and two hundred NZ businesses published an ‘Open Letter’ telling us all that for a wide range of roles, it no longer matters if applicants hold a tertiary qualification or not. In their letter they say these roles could be in technology, sales, marketing, customer service, management, manufacturing and operations to name a few.

Read the Open Letter and see who signed on

They say it’s because so many jobs these days are ‘skills-based’, and these skills can be gained in a number of ways. Many can be taught on the job – as they are with trades and similar earn/learn occupations – and so can be taught the way employers would like.

Employers are looking for your skills

The employers’ focus will be on assessment of necessary skills, attitudes, motivation and how they think you will ‘fit in’ with the business. They’ll do this, they say, by looking any prior work experience (full or part-time), community work, portfolios, online learning and even entrepreneurial endeavours you may have ventured into.

The open letter represents a significant turn around from the last few decades. Back when our parents were at school, around 5% of school leavers went to university (for free too). Today its around 30%.

Is academic inflation part of the problem?

When you think about it, the jobs aren't more difficult. Instead it’s part of a process that is called ‘academic inflation’. If an employer can hire someone with a degree or someone without, they'll hire the person with a degree because they are too often seen or sold as the ‘superior’ candidate. And if you have groups of employers like accountants or engineers for example, the rising level of qualifications soon becomes the new normal for the role.  

The idea that a degree makes you marketable ramps up pressure on everyone to get one, but as soon as everyone does, the value of having a degree goes down. This in turn pushes up the ‘entry level’ bar – if a bachelor’s degree was the level required for a job 20 years ago, it’s likely a master’s degree is needed now. If a master’s got the job in the past, a PhD is needed now.

Read: How the Master’s Degree became the new Bachelor’s

Is this actually going to make a difference?

It’s not going to be an overnight thing. You are still going to need to do your exams in a month or two, and you are still going to need to ‘sell’ yourself to a prospective employer.

How to prepare a great CV

Also if it’s all about your skills and business doesn’t mind if you rock up with a degree or not, does this mean we might face another sort of test? Or will workplaces fill up with heaps of interns competing cheaply for a job?

We really need to see the concept in action to understand it fully. Is this a way that businesses can keep their costs down because they don’t have to pay university graduates? Or is there now more genuine opportunity for more school leavers? We may need to check the no qualifications required part of the Trade Me Jobs section in the next year or two to find out.

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