What If We Really Do Value Underwater Basket Weaving?

We recently read an article in The Atlantic by Bryan Caplan entitled “The World Might be Better Off Without College for Everyone”. If you have not read it – it is an interesting read – and you can find it here.

While the article covers a range of topics, there were two topics that really hit home for us:

  • Educational signaling (hence our title, but more on that in a moment), and 
  • Credential inflation

Consider this. You are hiring a sales person. You know that you have a long sell cycle. You want someone who has patience, you want someone who is comfortable with long silences (aka listens more than they speak), and finally, you want someone who is a creative thinker. I don’t know about you, but a degree in underwater basket weaving seems to be an exact fit for that role.

Ridiculous Right? 

It is until you consider that as organizations, we buy into educational signaling all the time. The school an individual attends, their level of completion of their program of study all signal to employers the ability of one to persist in the workplace.

Now, there are many fields in which the degree/field of study which an individual pursues leads them to their chosen profession – medicine, science, engineering – however for a clear majority of the workforce, where we went to school and what degree we earned has little to no bearing on the jobs we are in.

Which leads us to our first point – As employers, we talk about the gap in the skills we need in our organizations and the skills we are finding in the marketplace. We point to the education system and we find fault there – but does the fault start closer to home. Are we sending the wrong message about the signals we will accept to consider you for a job?

And this ties us to our second point – of up credentialing. How many jobs in your organization are posted with a higher level of education than needed to effectively do the job? How many times, do you think a hiring manager or a talent acquisition professional has brought on someone with less education – because there was a right fit and the position was hard to fill.

You may be asking yourself “Why does this matter if we are able to get more educated employees at all levels that is good for the company, right?” – and if you are asking yourself that question – our answer would be “We do not think so!”.

Consider this:

  • With the cost of higher education rising at astronomical rates, workers are taking on huge amounts of debt to earn their college degree – at all levels.
  •  If a position has been up credentialed – but offers no differential in terms of pay for the degree, then the worker will struggle with their debt and ultimately look for a position that enables them to earn at a level that they can afford to pay their debt.
  • This drives a higher level of turn over of the organization.

We believe that organizations “right credentialing” their job descriptions is one of the first steps for them to re-engineer their talent strategy and to opening up new pipelines of talent to fill the roles they need to most fill.

Until then, we are just valuing underwater basket weaving.

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