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As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about how enterprises today need to shake up the status quo on business leadership, what really helps to keep my perspective on this refreshed and grounded is talking to my kids.
I have one who recently graduated from college and another who is there now studying business. They’ve both mentioned how the things they learned in school didn’t always align with what’s actually going on in the business world. It seems schools have a lot of catching up to do to ensure what they’re giving their students is still relevant and useful when they enter the workforce.
Higher education is judged based on the value it imparts to graduates. But that value is almost always characterized in terms of what kind of degree the student leaves with. Once you enter the working world, degrees don’t really matter; job recruiters aren’t breathing down your neck about your GPA.
What companies are really looking for, and the kinds of employees who end up excelling at their work, are those with transferable skills — the capacity for problem-solving, teamwork, decision-making and critical thinking. These are the traits that matter most in workers, yet universities are not doing enough to ensure that students are graduating with these skills under their belt.
What you learn in school about a given field will almost certainly change by the time you enter that field. What never changes, though, is the value that you bring to the table — in any job, in any industry — by mastering those transferable skills.
Another thing to consider is the value of university-taught careers education. By which, I don’t mean workshops on how to write a CV or attending a job fair; this is basic building-block stuff. Rather, this is about a course or series of courses that focus on what people should expect out of the working world.
Not all industries or occupations are created equal. Private sector versus public sector, employee versus entrepreneur, creative versus technical. These differences may sound obvious on paper, but in practice, it can feel like quite the psychological adjustment in the event you jump from one to the next — and if you don’t have the cognitive agility and flexibility to roll with it right off the bat, those adjustments can become obstacles to success.
To put it another way, we typically define work in terms of blue-collar versus white-collar jobs. But the last several years have seen the emergence of a third way — “no-collar” work, where employees are operating without any kind of structure to ground themselves in. No office, no boss, no projects, no cubicles, no teams. Not even one specific job. Rather, no-collar employees might be juggling multiple careers at once — and this applies across the board, to both millennials and retirees alike. The gig economy isn’t just Uber drivers; there’s a whole cottage industry of gig employees who are stretching themselves across multiple jobs in distinct industries and are very comfortable working that way.
These no-collar employees make it work because of cognitive agility and transferable skills. To be a successful entrepreneur today, all you really need is a laptop and a smartphone — the costs to lease out office space or equipment are no longer mandatory. But are university professors really catching on to this? I don’t know that my kids ever learned about no-collar work in school, much less were taught to aspire to that kind of thinking.
Universities need to start taking some meaningful steps to support continuous education, ensuring that students leave their institutions not just with degrees, but transferable skills that they can apply anywhere. More than that, students need to leave school not thinking that they’ve learned everything they’ll ever need to know, but with their minds open to the need for continuous education — that they’ll have to keep learning and growing in order to keep moving through the working world successfully. And it’s on employers, too, to ensure they’re supporting their employees’ needs for continuing education with training, events and other opportunities for learning new skills or updating old levels of expertise.
January 3, 2019 at 08:11AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs