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Higher Education

CEO of Upwork Predicts Skills Will Soon Matter More than Degrees

By Cait Etherington
January 21, 2019

Since 2014, there has been a massive shift from degrees to skills and it has been disrupting all sectors. First, some big players like Google started to employ more people solely based on demonstrated competencies rather than degrees. Around the same time, the coding academy sector started to experience tremendous growth. Some of these for-profit coding academies have done such a great job placing graduates in tech positions, they now offer money-back guarantees to graduates who fail to find related positions upon graduation. Now, in a post on the World Economic Forum’s website, Stephane Kasriel, the founder and CEO of Upwork, has announced that the changing value of degrees is something that isn’t going change any time soon. But will this shift persist if and when the current skills gap in tech has been addressed?

Kasriel Says College Pedigree Is Losing Its Value

In a January 10th post on the World Economic Forum site, Kasriel, the founder and CEO of Upwork (a global work platform for freelancers), argues that, to be labor-market ready, rethinking education and training will be key. He also notes that our current education system simply changes to slowly. 

It is on this basis that Kasriel further argues that we need to let go of our attachment to degrees. Moving forward, he says, “Skills, not college pedigree, will be what matters.”

To support his claims, Kasriel cites Upwork’s 2018 Freelancing in America study, which was released last October. Among other key findings, the 2018 study discovered that freelancers favor skill-based training over a college education. The study also found that freelancers are exceptionally proactive about updating their skills and tend to seek out training a few key areas, including technology and business. Since freelancers tend to make less than salaried employees, not surprisingly, the study also found that cost is a huge factor.

Kasriel Isn’t Alone In His Predictions

Kasriel may be right, but he is not necessarily visionary. In 2017, just before Bloc.io was acquired by competitor Thinkful, the coding academy adopted a new slogan: Skills > Degree. Bloc’s slogan essentially sums up Kasriel’s argument with two words and a symbol: “Skills are greater than degrees.” But if skills are increasingly being favored over degrees, the reason is clear.

According to a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum, current technological trends are bringing about an “unprecedented rate of change.” By one estimate, the study reports, close to half of subject knowledge encountered by freshmen is useless by the time they graduate just four years later. This necessitates a massive overhaul of our current approaches to education and training. As stated in the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, to survive in the future, we need to move away from our current “siloed” education and training system.  

It is on this basis that the World Economic Forum’s 2016 report on the future of jobs further emphasizes the need to rapidly scale training programs and promote life-long learning across sectors.

Some Sectors Unlikely to Be Impacted

While some sectors are certainly becoming increasingly open to hiring people on the basis of their demonstrated competencies or even demonstrated ability to learn on the job, other sectors seem unlikely to let go of their attachments to degrees and formal credentials any time soon. Beyond the education sector, which is evidently invested in upholding formal educational credentials, many other professionals, including law and medicine, continue to cling to credentialism and pedigree. In addition, even as some sectors open up to hiring candidates on the basis of their skills, not degrees, questions remain about how these candidates will advance in their careers over time. It is possible that the current change in attitude about the value of degrees may, in fact, just be a temporary shift that conveniently responds to the current skill gap in the tech sector.

Photo by 85Fifteen on Unsplash.

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