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Alt. College Degree for New Collar Jobs?

The New Collar Workforce

In today’s manufacturing environment, it’s skills and ability—not academic pedigree—that matter most. It’s time to update the blue-collar/white-collar approach to the workforce.

new collar jobsSource: Industry Week
By Adrienne Selko

Former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty: “IBM has championed a new educational model for the United States — six-year public high schools that combine traditional education with the best of community colleges, mentoring, and real-world job experience.”

The concept is to look at ability, not academic grooming.

“Getting a job at today’s IBM does not always require a college degree. What matters most is relevant skills, sometimes obtained through vocational training. We are creating and hiring to fill ‘new collar’ jobs — entirely new roles in areas such as cybersecurity, data science, artificial intelligence and cognitive business.”

Another welcome trend is the emergence of regional partnerships for apprentices and other training. The best route for these partnerships is to work closely with companies to determine specific job needs. Community education should be aligned with the skills of open jobs.

News I want you to use item submitted by long-time reader Rick Manning.

Nick’s take

Sounds great. I’m a big believer in a 4-year college education, but I also believe in apprenticeship. (See The Training Gap: How employers lose their competitive edge.) Rometty suggests taxpayers should pay for an Alt. college degree to custom-train workers for New Collar jobs at IBM. Who pays for what, and who’s really getting the benefits?

What’s your take?

Should public education policy be driven by the needs of industry? Should taxpayers foot the bill to custom-train workers for IBM?

 

 

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23 Comments
  1. I really hate the word ‘should’. Should society bail out financial firms who speculate, or package questionable investments for resale to other institutions, and caused the 2008 collapse? Should society offer incentives to large corporations in the hope that they’ll create jobs, instead of diverting the incentives to executive compensation?

    I’m well past retirement age, and still working…presently running an EE lab at a local technical college. It’s p/t, it’s fun, and it’s rewarding to see bright, committed students working on a start to their careers.

    IBM has a long history of tuition payment for workers attending programs that have relevance to their field of endeavor. Global Foundries, who acquired the IBM microelectronic business, continues the practice. They are responsible players in a labor market which is frankly thin on new, young talent. You could do a lot worse than work for either of them, whether in an internship or tuition assisted employment.

    Should the government fund a program that has close ties to responsible industry? There are countries where college education or technical education is free to those who want it. (not really free..covered by taxes). Should China send 1 million of its students out of country to universities around the globe? They’re doing it–it’s strategic.

    Ginny Rommety’s idea is a decent one. A good first step toward reseting our national view of education away from a 19th centurary agrarian model, and into a 21st century vision. The only ‘should’ I can see is, the idea SHOULD be offered to all industries, and expanded to include university study in general.

    • @Jim Jarvis: I think you’re right: what Rometty is saying is that business should have no part when it comes to training new hires, but rather this is outsourcing the training of prospective new hires to schools, with the cost outsourced to the taxpayers and even to the students themselves. At what point “should” we the taxpayers tell corporate America that they, too, need to have some skin in the game, that they need to train their own employees?

      And if students are required to do apprenticeships and/or internships, then employers should pay them.

      • I completely agree with you guys here, it’s basically NIMBY, socialize the losses, privatize the profits and so on.

  2. I agree with several points of the article, but the difficulty I see is that many of the skills needed today (and more importantly, tomorrow) are too fast-moving for government (including the educational/industrial complex we have today) to respond. All businesses are looking to reduce internal costs (largely personnel) to make their goods/services more competitive. The manufacturing sector has been moving for decades from human labor to automation; agribusiness has been moving the same way; as has film automation. Computer coding? So many people pursuing it, it has become super saturated. In the USA the largest industry (for almost every state) is ambulatory health care. Add to that the true “living wage” needed in a particular geographic area (https://livingwage.mit.edu/) and it becomes super hard to predict which career path is most likely to provide financial independence, worth investment (either public funds or school loans), or will even last long enough to make the effort worthwhile.

    • My questions at the end of my short column were loaded (I admit). As Jim and David point out, this is not a simple yes/no judgment. A good education should be a solid foundation on which a person can add new specific skills. Its general nature should make moving between jobs easier because the person has that foundation.

      On the other hand, it’s also good to learn more specific skills from apprenticeship. One doesn’t have to have a 4-year degree to be successful.

      But David makes two very important observations:

      “the difficulty I see is that many of the skills needed today (and more importantly, tomorrow) are too fast-moving for government (including the educational/industrial complex we have today) to respond.”

      The more specific and narrow the training, the less likely it is to pay off in the long run, but the needs of industry change much faster than any education program can keep up with. So this is a good caution to anyone seeking a “certification” in a very specific industry/skill area.

      ” it becomes super hard to predict which career path is most likely to provide financial independence, worth investment (either public funds or school loans), or will even last long enough to make the effort worthwhile.”

      I think it’s virtually impossible. The best education is a curriculum that gives you foundations in learning, critical thinking, and general literacy. That’s always required in every job.

      Education is not an easy policy topic. I hope we hear more points of view!

      • Nick Corcodilos-“Which career path will be worth the investment and last long enough to make the effort worthwhile”? There are those who advocate STEM. Yet, I’ve had several young men in my evening welding classes who are recent graduate M.E.s from good engineering schools (K State, MU Rolla) who spent over a year looking for entry-level engineering jobs, and didn’t get a thing. I stress, these were not problematic duds either! They were good students, good grades, hard working, personable, articulate, and they were willing to take entry-level wages and relocate anywhere an entry-level engineering job was available. They ended up taking a quick 16 week MIG/TIG welding program just to get an entry-level production welding job, a job that paid better wages (plus benefits) compared to the low wage warehouse and food service jobs they had been working. Will they ever use their engineering degrees? Who knows. I hope so. But, they have to survive. They were some of the best students I’ve ever had. I will tell you that in my day job, when I’m out on the shop floors, I see a lot of gray heads. And I hear a lot of angst from managers who are fearful because they have few to no younger workers to take over when these gray heads go out the door. The employers have dropped the ball. According to an American Welding Society (AWS) report, the average age for a welder is 55 (58 for a machinist). And according to a National Association of Manufacturers report , 81% of manufacturers can’t find skilled welders to meet demand. I see fewer workers on the shop floors, but the workers I do see are more specialized, multi-taskers, and cross-functional. As far as automation goes, I see robots in some long run production applications, and I see a lot more of them sitting idle or inoperable. I see a lot of CNC machine tools and fabrication equipment pumping out parts, but they’re being run by skilled fabricators, or machinists, not by robots. I’m seeing castings coming back on shore due to substandard quality from India and China. I’m seeing tooling coming back from Portugal and Hungary because it didn’t work, and American toolmakers had to rework it to put it into service. And I’ve seen equipment break downs, and industrial maintenance mechanics working diligently, to get the equipment back up and producing parts. Statistics aside, or a roll of the dice, however you want to call it, the reality is, there’s going to be manufacturing, and demand for skilled workers in manufacturing, so I’d place my odds on that. As a frustrated plant manager from a chemical refinery told me
        “I have a stack of resumes on my desk from people wanting glamorous jobs programming robots and pecking on CAD systems. There’s too many computer jockeys, and not enough people who can turn a wrench”!

        • @Antonio: A friend of mine got an advanced degree in HR. Worked in HR for a time. The money was lousy, so was the work. After all those years of education and experience, he apprenticed out with a master electrician. Several years later, he makes twice what he did in HR, loves the freedom the job gives him during his workday, and he’s 1,000% happier. So I agree with you!

          • Nick Corcodilos- I went to a small affordable second tier university (later in life) in the middle of nowhere in NW Missouri. In one of my classes, we had to study Dr Deming’s, and Dr Taylor’s, works. I remember how American industry dismissed and mocked their works, yet post WWII Japan embraced them. I also remember Frederick Taylor’s emphasis on industry continuously training workers. I once had the opportunity to tour a Japanese ball bearing manufacturer in a small town in SW Iowa. I saw Taylor and Deming’s works being practiced. The Japanese has invested in a then 200 employee plant, with a ROI of 15 years, unlike their American counterparts, who wanted “immediate profits”. The Plant Manager was compensated at a % above the workers on the floor, but none of this outlandishly bloated salaries and perks. The workers were cross trained to multi-task and cross-function throughout the plant. There was none of this General Motors or Boeing style layers upon layers of “do nothing” management either. The organizational flow chart was the Plant Manager, below him was the HR Manager, Engineers, the Maintenance Manager, and Floor Supervisors. Below this were the grunts. Planned lean and mean from the get go, not reactive lean and mean because of inept management. Parts flowed from the grinding department, to the deburring department, then to the heat treat department. They were short of help in the deburring department. There was the Plant Manager, a graduate M.E. by trade (I was told the Japanese don’t have business schools, nor MBAs) deburring parts on their way to heat treat. Now let me ask you this, do you think the likes of Wosniak, Jobs, Gates, Pichai, Bezos, Zuckerberg, or any of these others would ever be out on the floor, shoulder to shoulder with the grunts, doing something like this?

            • I worked for a contract spray can filling company that embraced the ideas of Dr Taylor and Deming. If the office personnel didn’t want to get their hands dirty to fulfill a rush order, they were terminated. On the other hand, the owner kept the employee count too lean. I started out in maintenance and as employees left, my added duties included shipping and receiving, quality control, chemical blending and occasional assistance in production. After working 12-14hrs/day and constantly asking for help and not receiving it, I walked out.

    • @David re the living wage. Any job whose pay is rising faster than local cost of living + inflation. Will eventually pay living wage or more.

      Wages are stagnating though.

  3. Finally, a positive article about vocational training, rather than articles about white collar “do nothing” managers! Like Jim Jarvis, I too adjunct part-time (evenings for 7 years now) in a technical school (community college), but in a 9 month welding program. In my day job, I deal with industrial accounts regularly (mostly smaller job shops to mid-size manufacturers) who offer good competitive wages and benefits for my area, but struggle to find welders, machinists, and multi-craft maintenance mechanics. If someone is in these trades, and they’re not gainfully employed, then they just don’t want to work. Employers come to the school needing graduates now, not 9-18 months from now. This has developed into adding additional 16 week condensed down programs designed to give very basic entry-level skills quickly, and fill the gap, while the cooperative employers continue with further on the job training. Despite those high school counselors, and educators, who go to great extents to marginalize vocational careers, and dissuade young people from pursuing them, my classes are consistently at full capacity. To their credit, many of my Gen Z students have rejected the false premise that they must pursue an often worthless 4 year degree, and accrue insurmountable debt, in order to be employable, or be successful in life. Germany has phenomenal and successful apprenticeship programs, be they very expensive, that starts to prepare students for vocational careers, as early as primary school.

  4. When unions were stronger and more plentiful, they worked hand in hand with management to teach skills to new employees. Now with the unions gone, management wants new employees to know everything from day 1. A local food packaging company is disappointed with the local technical college because new employees they send can’t turn a wrench, but yet the company won’t take the time to train. When I applied, I demonstrated my skills and already knew some of the equipment. Of course I wanted a higher starting wage, but then my knowledge was greater. I was not hired, but it turned out it is a very dysfunctional plant and I missed a real curve ball.
    Skilled trade unions still have a long training program.
    Sure glad I am retired and can choose my hours and employer.

    • @Mike: Peter Cappelli, a labor and employment researcher at Wharton, points out that companies have cut their training & development budgets dramatically in the past decade. They expect to make “just in time” hires who have already done the work, want to keep doing the exact same work, and will take less money to do it! What talented person is interested in any of that??

      Management has forgotten that investing in training and developing employees PAYS OFF.

  5. As with everything else in life, actions speak louder than words. A few years back there was a widely circulated article from a Google manager claiming that great talent could and should be found without recruiting from Stanford or other elite universities! That advice, was of course, meant for everyone else, not them, as there has never not been an active Google student recruiting presence at any of these schools in the interim years or today. And a quick scan of the job listings on IBM’s website show a minimum requirement of a Bachelors degree for interns in business and technical roles and just about every job type and level of experience that comes after.

    Industry has been whining about their needs to workers and the educational industrial complex for decades. Co-ops are not new. Colleges like Northeastern and WPI have offered this since their inception. Yet when it comes to making the connection between student/employee and employer, it still seems to be like two ships passing in the night. Why is that? I don’t think you can lay it all at the feet of workers and educators. Rometty’s tenure at IBM was abysmal, 22 quarters of declining revenue and market value. If she’s so prescient in the ways and needs of the modern business, why couldn’t she do better for IBM in 8 years as their CEO? It’s easy to offer superficial prescriptions as you walk out the door with 10s of millions in stock and compensation completely divorced from the reality of your own business execution performance.

  6. You hit the nail on the head with the last sentence, corporate execs, along with Washington, DC politicians, are divorced from reality….But that is another story for another time and place.

  7. Interesting article. I’m of two minds about it. On the one hand, I agree that getting some practical, hands-on experience is a great idea. This, however, is nothing new. Generations ago, apprenticeships were common, especially in the vo-tech schools. So why did they fall out of favor? Some schools like Northeastern have long required its students to work in their fields while earning their degrees. At the community college where I worked, the students in the IT programs, computer programs have been required to do not apprenticeships but internships. Great, but not a single one them is paid, and in fact the students are required to pay for the privilege of doing the internships. One of our student workers was doing an internship, was older (late 40s), and was struggling financially because the internship was required (he had no problem with that) but he had to pay “tuition” in order to do it. Yes, he received academic credit for it, but the employer with whom he interned told him that they gladly took on student interns, they never hired any of the students who interned for them. This student was fortunate that his wife worked and they (had 2 kids) lived with her parents rent-free. He took that internship because it was highly recommended, and he hoped to make the connections he needed to get a job somewhere else once he graduated. I had seen him a couple years ago, and he was back to working in a restaurant, the job he had had before returning to school for an IT degree. He was frustrated, disgusted, and more than a little discouraged and disappointed that his IT degree and his internship experience didn’t help him land a better job.

    On the other hand, I wonder how much of this wringing of corporate America’s hands about the “skills gap” is really due to their looking for another way to outsource costs. At one time, employers used to train new hires, and even trained more experienced workers because employees were seen as an investment, which needed training, tending, mentoring, etc. and didn’t expect immediate payoffs from said hires. Over the years, businesses have stopped doing this, instead outsourcing the training of their hires to colleges and universities, and when those newly minted graduates, be they from 4 year schools or 2 year schools, fail to be profitable the second their butts hit their chairs, corporate America is dismayed, and faults the schools for failing to provide perfectly trained human robots that will fit in specifically in their company and able to do whatever the jobs are without being shown where the bathroom is much less get any employer-specific training. I think this is ridiculous, and doesn’t make any sense. No school, whether it is a prestigious 4 year school or a 2 year technical community college, can provide the kind of detailed, employer-specific training that many employers seem to require these days. The best any school can do is provide general education, teach students how to do research, critical thinking skills, and the ability to read, write, communication and solve problems. Teaching them employer-specific processes and how specific employers want the jobs done should be up to the employer, not the college or university. Demanding that colleges set up apprenticeships, internships, etc. will solve part of the problem, but not all of it. I think employers have to have some skin in the game if they truly want to be able to hire people who can work at their companies. And that means employers need to start training again.

    There are industries and fields that have apprenticeships and internships for students and graduates: medicine is the one that immediately comes to my mind, though medical students’ training is called residencies. These last for years, and medical school graduates get paid (not much, compared to what they’ll be able to make once they’ve completed their residencies, passed their boards, etc.). Why? Because despite having to have both a college degree (bachelor’s) and a medical degree (4 more years on top of college), they still don’t know nearly enough to be able to practice medicine.

    My best friend’s husband became an electrician later in life. She said that he had had to apprentice to a master, licensed electrician for 7 years, then I forget how many years as a journeyman, before he could take the exam and get licensed himself. He was in 50s when he finished, and then the great recession happened, and he couldn’t get work except small jobs thrown to him by a friend. She said that he wasn’t paid at all for time spent as an apprentice, and I forget whether he earned anything as a journeyman. Once again, why not? Is not the work being done valuable? Or are employers simply being cheap and looking for the cheapest labor or better still, free labor? And where does it end? Will slavery make a return because that would be the best solution for business. A one time “investment” in the purchase of slaves, then they work for nothing.

    An acquaintance’s two kids both went to WPI, one graduating with a degree in environmental science, the other with a degree in chemistry. Both kids were required to do internships, and both did unpaid internships all three summers. They were fortunate that mom and dad were able to underwrite their internships, pay their rent, utilities, food, car expenses, etc. Neither kid was offered work after they graduated with any of the companies at which they interned. Why not? She said that for her son with chemistry, the employers could hire people with graduate degrees in chemistry for entry-level jobs at entry-level wages, so the choice was easy because they got people with higher degrees. That left the kids with mere bachelors’ degrees scrambling and often having to do something unrelated to chemistry. The other reason is that in those areas, chemistry majors are a dime a dozen, so even interning doesn’t help, though it is required. And yes, they pay for the internships (they get academic credit). The chemistry major is working on a local farm, and the older kid has done a variety of non-major related jobs ranging from answering phones to sales. She went back to school for a master’s degree, and then found she was competing with Ph.Ds for jobs and losing.

    I agree that not everyone needs or should get a college degree, but the way employers hire these days and don’t provide any kind of on the job training, that still means for most people, they’ll need some kind of post-secondary education. The kind of degree people get depends upon what they want to do.

    There is an employer who provides on the job training as well as figures out what to do with their new hires: the military. The son of a former colleague didn’t know what he wanted to do when he graduated from high school last spring, so he joined the Army. The Army gave him all kinds of aptitude tests as well as basic training, and having found what they consider a job he can do, will train him for it. She said that the Army is also telling him that he WILL have to go back to school (college), but the Army, or rather, us taxpayers, will pay for it.

    If the military can figure out how to train people, so can corporate America.

    • The idea of forgiving college debt does not get to the root cause, as you pointed out, students take on loads of debt for the wrong reasons, some is their fault for not investigating the major well enough, and some of the fault lies on the higher education system for deceiving students, and some of the fault lies with corporations. We all know people who have multiple degrees and can’t find a position in their field and have a ton of debt.

      • @Mike: You’re raising a very important point. This is a dirty little secret of the education industry. Directly or indirectly, higher education does deceive students, and their parents who are often paying for what they believe is “an education that will help my kid get a job and be more successful.”

        The deception is in the marketing of the degree program. The big idea is that college grads earn more over their lifetimes than those without a degree. What they don’t disclose is the “profit” the degree yields. EARNINGS – COST = PROFIT. When we add the costs of debt, where does that leave the graduate? The college debt situation answers that question.

        Perhaps the most flagrant examples are MBA and law degrees. We annually see the MBA school ratings in major magazines, the idea being that paying for the degree will get you a great job. But if you talk to the grads, unless you go to a big-name school that certain companies hire from almost automatically, that degree just may not pay off. So, where are the metrics published by each school?

        In the undegraduate world, why don’t education “customers” demand outcomes data about each degree program? How many students took that degree last year, how many got jobs, where did they get the jobs and what are the salaries? Schools will claim they don’t have that data. What they mean is, they don’t gather that data. Why not? You can probably guess. It’s not smart marketing to show the customer that the product doesn’t do what was implied in the marketing.

        Parents and students have to ask. They must demand.

        Now, I’m a fan of education for its own sake. I don’t have to see a direct connection between education and getting a job. Education teaches me how to learn in addition to teaching me a subject matter. It makes me smarter and more sophisticated overall. So to me, it’s worth it.

        But when parents and students expect a graduate to get a good-paying job because that’s what the school implied or promised in its marketing, then someone’s feet must be held to the fire.

        • Nick Corcodilos- On higher education, I say caveat emptor. “It makes me smarter and more sophisticated overall”. If you ascribe to this, so be it. For me, my higher education really didn’t make a dent in much of anything. What I learned was from work experience, and how I developed myself, was through self learning, or picking (sometimes to their annoyance) people’s brains. I’d say that many people I’ve encountered over the years, with college degrees (save for some higher-level educators, entrepreneurs, trust fund children, some government workers, doctors and STEM folks, and partners in law firms) were no better off than most anyone else out there. With all due respect, many people I’ve seen with degrees, “can’t pour it out of a boot”. Before the pandemic hit, I sometimes stopped into my neighborhood Starbucks on my way to work for an overpriced coffee. The young baristas would opine about their woes. Some were $40,000 or more in debt, making $9 an hour, and sweating bullets to meet their monthly student loan nut. Then they’d talk of “going back to school” (the cure all for these bad life choices) to incur yet another $30,000-$40,000 of student loan debt in the hopes of getting a part-time adjunct teaching position, or some other non-existent fantasy career path. When I brought up vocational careers and trades, or how can you then pay off now $80,000 of student loan debt on $9 an hour as a barista, they frowned and exclaimed their disdain, and dismissed such ideas. Until our legislators start withholding funds to these universities, and people start boycotting them, these scams and shenanigans will continue unchecked.

        • I did hold the feet to the fire. I have an IT degree from the local vocational school. Part of their pitch was they guaranteed a job or would give you a refund. Upon graduation, 2 IT positions opened at the school and HR said the recently graduated applicants wern’t qualified! My fellow students were sheep and just whined. But my Boomer protest instinct kicked in and I complained to the instructors, plus I knew 2 board members and raised hell. HR did eventually hire 2 graduates and they worked out very well and stayed for quite a few years.

  8. I respectfully disagree with the whole students are customers idea. I’ve worked in higher education for more than 20 years, and students are not customers. Getting an education, be it for a bachelor’s degree, a graduate or professional degree, an associate’s degree, or certification is not like buying a bicycle at Wal-Mart. I’ve seen the problems of treating students as customers, and it isn’t pretty. Students who feel entitled to As even though they’ve done none/little of the work, didn’t do the assignments, didn’t take the tests, didn’t demonstrate that they’ve learned the material, and feel that they deserve the As because they paid. And that’s the difference. If I buy a bicycle at Wal-Mart, I don’t have to show that I know how to ride it, and if I change my mind about it, I return it for a refund. Education (broadly, including the technical schools as well as colleges and universities) is different. Paying tuition and fees won’t, or shouldn’t, mean you are entitled to As if you don’t do the work, don’t show that you learned, understand, etc. the material.

    Years ago, at another job, an employee in another dept. shared a story about a “customer”. He had signed up for a class, then failed to go to class, to do the work, take the exams, etc. Shockingly, he failed (huge eyeroll), and he was not happy with his F. He complained to the advisor, and she told him to talk to the professor about his grade. This was not good enough, so he found the Director of Cont. Ed. and complained to him. The Director then went to the employee and told her to change his grade to an A. She was horrified. The Director of Cont. Ed. was new, had come from the corporate world, specifically to run Cont. Ed. “like a business”. Lu told me that her boss (the Director) didn’t, couldn’t understand why she was hesitating to change the grade. She endeavored to explain that it is up to the professor, not her. The Director, she told me, protested, “But he’s a CUSTOMER, and he PAID”. Yes, he did pay tuition, but he’s not a customer in the traditional sense. If this were Wal-Mart, he’d be entitled to a refund, or to replace the item with something else. It doesn’t work that way in higher education, and the student has to do the work to earn the grade. Lu was scared, because she was being insubordinate to her boss, and knew she could fired if she didn’t do what he told her to do. But she also knew that if she changed the grade as the Director demanded, the professor would complain about her overstepping her role and meddling in what was solely his purview, and that could get her fired. Faculty outrank staff, and had the professor complained to the Director about Lu, she knew the Director would have taken the professor’s side, even though Lu would have done what the Director told her to do. She was between a rock and hard place, and didn’t want to lose her job. She resolved the matter by contacting the professor, telling him what she was being told to do, and asked him to contact the Director to explain matters (which he did, taking the heat off of Lu).

    At my next job, I found a sea change with two new deans. The old dean thought of students as students, and recognized that they have a responsibility to go to class, study, do the work, seek help if needed, take the exams, etc. The next two did not, nor did my direct boss, who very firmly believes that “students ARE CUSTOMERS, first, last, and always”. This philosophy led to staff getting books for students because they couldn’t be expected to know how to find them on their own (despite many of them taking the research classes), to not expecting or requiring them to have student IDs, to activate them so they can use the library. Guest logins were provided so the “customers” didn’t have to bother with such trifles as remembering their cards, or even getting ids. This created a whole host of other issues, as their personal accounts were linked to their ids. She thought not doing everything for them was bad customer service.

    I do think students should ask schools/programs about graduation rates, where alumni are employed, etc. All of the schools at which I’ve worked kept statistics on this, and more, and this was provided to those who asked for it. It is also required for accreditation purposes. But I also think that expecting schools or programs to guarantee employment doesn’t work. If you work at a college, the best you can do is make sure that your courses and programs are up-to-date, that your students (not customers) are learning the most current information, learning the most current skills and practices. But that still isn’t a guarantee that they will get jobs. Why? Because colleges don’t control the decisions of third parties (in this case, employers). And why don’t employers hire from one school or another? Who knows? It may have nothing to do with the quality of the programs and graduates. On this blog we’ve had many discussions about the nuttiness of hiring. It could be that the hiring manager only hires from his alma mater, and never from other schools. It could be that the employer can hire people with advanced degrees for entry-level jobs, and so he does. If the schools are doing their part (maintaining accreditation, keeping up with current trends in the fields, etc.), and the students are doing theirs, then what role do third parties (employers) play? Getting a degree or certification will only get you so far. If employers require, in addition to the degree or certificate, 5-8 years of professional work experience, then most college grads (unless they’re older) won’t have that. I still think employers need to re-invest in training, in mentoring employees.

    I apologize for the length of this post, but as you can tell, this is a matter about which I am passionate.

    • @Marybeth: I’m pretty shocked at your story about “students as customers.” I had no idea there are school administrators who believe they’re running a spa. That’s just nuts.

      My gripe is not with higher education itself. As I’ve said many time, I’m all for education for its own sake. My gripe is with the marketing many schools do that more than just implies the degree they confer on you will get you a great job and great money.

      Putting that aside, I think even as they deliver education for its own sake, schools also have an obligation to help students find the connections between education and work. In other words, take the $$ schools spend on often-inept “career centers” and put it in the classroom — to explore how a course can, not must relate to jobs.

      But students as customers? Gimme a break. That’s like paying for horse-back riding lessons and never saddling up — then complaining the stables didn’t “deliver.”

      • @Nick: Yeah, unfortunately this philosophy of “students are customers” has been around for a while, but seems to have really taken hold over the last 10 years. And yes, it IS nuts. I remember having this discussion with my former boss (the one who thinks of and treats students as customers first, last, and always) and two deans. None of them saw the problem of not expecting and requiring more of students, and even worse, didn’t care what happened if some of them transferred to other colleges (let those colleges teach them how to find books in library,let those colleges expect them to find their classes on their own, etc.) or the workplace. It got so bad that my boss would personally walk students to their classrooms because she thought this was part of providing excellent “customer service”. Never mind that when students showed up not knowing where their class was meeting, they never knew their account information so they could log in, look up their class schedule, including the building, room, and time in which it met, and often never knew their professors’ names, the courses they were taking, and even the difference between the library and the bookstore. Handing them a campus map, even giving them easy, verbal directions (and yes, all of the academic buildings were both numbered and had signage with the numbers and the building names) and letting them find their own way. The campus wasn’t that large. I was the one who was considered “bad” for not doing everything for them.

        Okay, I understand what you meant now (re marketing college degrees), and yes, I’m sure that plenty of colleges do this. The schools I’ve worked for didn’t make any kinds of promises, so that hasn’t been my experience. And yes, I agree that colleges should do more to help students find those connections between education and work. As we’ve all discussed many times here, it is the personal connections that matter, or as a friend of mine said “it isn’t what you know but who knows you” that matters when it comes to getting hired. That isn’t emphasized enough. I think colleges could make visits to career development offices mandatory, could budget more money so those offices are adequately staffed to help students. But the other part is that many students don’t visit those offices until second semester, senior year, and they should have been going to them since they were freshmen. And schools need to do more to manage expectations–that very few students will get out of college and land a super high paying job, complete with corner office, a bevy of secretaries/assistants, and running the place. Starting at entry level, learning, moving up or out to a new employer is still much more the norm. And they need to manage employers’ expectations as well: they’re not going to get perfectly trained new hires who will know precisely how that particular employer wants that job done without some training on the part of the employer.

        I have another example of mismatched expectations for you. In the nursing profession, you can take your NCLEX (exam required for licensure) once you’ve earned your associate’s degree in nursing (which must be from an accredited school, etc., and there are other requirements, but the educational requirements to be an RN are low–an associate’s degree is sufficient). But, and it is a BIG but, EMPLOYERS won’t hire you as a nurse (RN), even with your passing the NCLEX, etc. if you only have an associate’s degree. Most require, at a minimum, a BSN (Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing), and there has been an even greater push for nurses to have even more education (MSN and preferably doctorate degrees in nursing). What has been happening is that although you can still get hired with a BSN, more nursing students are finding it harder to get hired without higher degrees (for the same basic, entry level nursing jobs). At the community college where I worked, a nursing student was one of our student workers. She was an immigrant, smart, motivated, etc., but poor. Her dean and others were telling her that all she needed was an associate’s degree, which was technically true–that was all she would need in order to be qualified to take her NCLEX. When she finished community college, she took and passed the NCLEX, passed the background check, etc., and tried to get a job as an RN. No luck, despite nursing jobs going vacant. No one would hire her because she didn’t have a BSN. I had told her that she would have to get her BSN (at my previous job, my school had at one time shared a dean and business office with the School of Nursing, so I had heard about the mismatch of “requirements” for years). But her community college dean didn’t tell her that an associate’s degree in nursing, plus NCLEX wouldn’t be enough. Why, I’d wondered, because the nursing faculty at my other employer had all emphasized to students that the BSN was the bare minimum they’d need to get hired. It wasn’t schools that were pushing additional education for nurses, but employers. The community college student did eventually transfer to a four year school and earn her BSN, and she did get hired, but I remember her telling me, when I’d seen her, how she was disappointed and puzzled that the community college nursing program didn’t tell her and the other nursing students that they’d need more.

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