We struggle daily with clients seeking candidates, in scarce skills roles, with ever-increasingly more specific degrees. And, its not just the degrees, it’s the perception that they must have achieved exceptional marks as well. Whilst we obviously do what we can to satisfy all of our clients’ requirements it can be highly frustrating to see exceptional candidates overlooked simply because they don’t seem to have the “right” qualification or “higher enough marks”.

We know too that those who achieve top marks at University do not necessarily make the best employees as they may lack skills like teamwork, creativity, innovative thinking and problem-solving. And it begs the question, should we start focusses more on skills, rather than degrees? Especially as deal with individuals later in their careers?

Traditional education models simply not adaptive enough to the Future Work environment

According to the World Economic Forum, sixty-five percent of children entering primary school will end up in jobs that don’t yet exist.  And that immediately raises the question, are our schools and tertiary institutions adapting fast enough to produce individuals who will easily assimilate into the workplace?

The pace of change in our skills development environment is slow by comparison and so much of the content being taught at universities and colleges is likely to be already outdated for the work environment. And yet, the laser focus of many employers on tertiary education means that young people believe they cannot succeed without a degree, and movements like #FeesMustFall were born as a result.

“Too often, degrees are still thought of as lifelong stamps of professional competency. They tend to create a false sense of security, perpetuating the illusion that work — and the knowledge it requires — is static. It’s not.”  Stephane Kasriel, Upwork CEO

It goes without saying that more traditional professions, like law, accounting and medicine, require very specific tertiary qualifications and the associated clerkships/residencies that provide the practical application of theory before individuals are qualified. And, recognising the need to maintain currency of knowledge, these professionals are also expected to keep a strict Continuous Professional Development (CPD) schedule.

But what about individuals who work in creative or technology roles where there is arguably less “theory” applied, and more related to skills? Skills which can be taught – and learned – in a number of ways, and usually as standalone items. With the proliferation of technology in just about all sectors, we’re increasingly seeing clients requesting non-IT professionals with coding skills.

With most formal qualifications requiring long periods of study, is it realistic to expect individuals who shift jobs and/or careers to also acquire a new qualification directly associated to that role?

Careers no longer span different roles in various companies, they often straddle entirely different jobs

Previous generations expected to have a single job for most of their life and even as Boomers began exploring more opportunities, there job changes typically remained within a very narrow (specific) industry or career path. Our generation (Xers) have been far more open to shifting industries, not just jobs, and whilst many have successfully transitioned, they’ve often had to re-qualify themselves to make this happen.

In the Gig economy we’re experiencing more people opting to freelance or “gig”, occupying multiple “jobs” often in vastly different industries and utilising different skills. Whilst the individuals’ drivers likely relate to their desire for flexibility, opportunity for challenging work and greater networks and interaction. For organisations, the chance to bring in specialist skills, knowledge and expertise “just-in-time” or for very specific periods or projects, is a motivator.

And if companies are willing to consider a non-traditional fit later in the game, why not focus on this earlier too?

Skills and Competencies should be the priority

The Future of Work isn’t going to be about degrees, more and more it’s about skills and competencies. And, when one is considering a prospective employee, the assessment process should allow for assessments that recognise the transferability of skills and competencies.

Larger organisations are catching on to this as they ditch the traditional model of degree being essential for employment. In 2017 PWC famously employed accountants without degrees and it sparked a trend with 15 of the most famous global corporations, including Apple and Google, following suit. Glassdoor reports that increasingly companies are offering well-paying jobs to individuals who have non-traditional education.

Those individuals who are more likely to be “future-proof” will be the ones who acknowledge and enact the belief that learning is as much as about unlearning and relearning and who commit time and effort to improving and diversifying their skill sets.

And the fastest growing segment of the workforce – freelancers – realise this more than ever. They’re nearly twice as likely to re-skill and to embody the principle of lifelong learning.

I believe strongly that universities need to re-think their offerings, and their entry criteria, to enable a more adaptive learning environment for those beginning their careers and those looking to shift later. In addition, more schools need to revisit their curricula and learning methods to empower the next generation with the skills, and ability to learn – unlearn – relearn to ensure their future success.

For those individuals seeking better career prospects, my question to you is: what are you doing daily to improve your knowledge and grow your skill set?

And my challenge to South African employers is: when will you shift away from boxed ideas of what the “ideal” employee looks like on paper, and rather focus on what they know, can do, and can learn, to avoid missing out on a great individual?