Coming Soon

Degree? Who needs ya stinkin degree? Well….

This is a selection from Future Here Now, a newsletter produced by the Wise Economy Workshop/ Wise Fool Press.  Every Future Here Now has three sections:

  • Coming Soon, on emerging ideas and technologies that will impact you sooner than you think, 
  • Local Learnings, on issues other communities are facing and how they are addressing them in a future-ready manner, 
  • Do Now, on practical ideas for helping your community and your work become more future-ready right now. 

For a weekly supply of information that helps you prepare for the Fusion Economy in the place you care about, plus other benefits, subscribe to Future Here Now.  You’ll be glad you did.  

This article gives us an interesting window into the contradictions that come with this moment of transition from Industrial to Fusion economy. Claims that degrees could become useless aren’t new — portfolio-based assessment was a big deal in my ca. 1990 education degree program, and 20 year old Della would have been shocked and disheartened that 53 year old Della is still paying for her children to get fancy sheets of paper from a university. But given recent movement from companies like Accenture, it looks like the death grip of the undergraduate degree on Your Future might be starting to break.

sea lion with red ball against teal background
From HBR

Like most things in this transitional era, however, the signals are very mixed, as the article indicates. Some jobs are more likely to assess based on specific skills, others still demand a degree. There’s a wide mix of factors at work here — more than the article has space to indicate. Obviously there’s some fields where the risks of a person not having precisely the right technical skills are higher than in others (maybe it’s reasonable to demand a degree of a civil engineer?). And an acute shortage of people in a field understandably raises the pressure to think more broadly about who might be able to do the job.

But that last piece also points to a bigger barrier — one that economic and community developers might, conceivably, be able to help with.

Reworking a job description from “must had a Bachelors in ___” to “must demonstrate capability to do these 19 specific things” requires a looot of work — and a very difficult re-thinking and breaking down and rebuilding of specific jobs and tasks and responsibilities. And like most people who are embedded within a system, the company’s HR staff and line leadership may be unlikely to be able to get enough mental distance from the status quo to be able to envision something fully new. Which makes it all the easier to default to the Bachelor’s requirement, even if that’s a useless or counter-productive qualification.

Industrial and other designers have a process that they call empathy – based design, which involves a lot of questioning and listening and working to discern what the client really needs and values, whether it’s said or unsaid. If economic developers applied empathy-based design principles to working with their businesses, they could provide a very important kind of Business Retention and Expansion support — helping their businesses create the kinds of job descriptions and requirements that actually get them what they want. And since skills-based job descriptions are less likely to perpetuate discrimination against people who didn’t have the chance to go to formal schooling, helping businesses pivot their recruitment requirements would also help address equity and increase business access to the entire community’s workforce. As any overworked HR staffer will tell you, it’s easier and cheaper to hire someone who already lives near the job than to recruit from far away. Win-win-win.

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