To grow our economy, we must focus on skills

Our snobbery prevents us from adequately training our workers. It’s time we get real about focusing on skill development to grow our economy.

Like it or not, technology and efficiency are changing the types of work available for people to do, and also expectations employers have for the people they hire.  There is less and less tolerance for allowing people to “learn on the job.”

An employer’s need to be confident that a new hire will hit the ground running creates a significant challenge for both employer and job candidate. How do you demonstrate that a person has the right skills?

These days a growing number of employers are unwilling to just assume that the last job the applicant had will have given her the right skills. Eric Friedman, Chairman and CEO of eSkill, a company that specializes in employee skills assessment, points out that employers don’t just rely on a person’s last job description or title, since “the same title can mean very different things across various organizations.”

The value of a good degree from a four-year program may also be decreasing. Bill Phelan, CEO of CollegeFactual, is in the business of matching students up with university choices to create marketable skills. He sees employers relying less and less on where someone goes to school. Instead, they are increasingly focused on applicants’ verifiable skills to “predict the roles a person might play today as well as to predict the roles they might play tomorrow.”

Unfortunately, our attitudes towards worker training have not yet caught up with these changing realities. When it comes to assessing potential hires, or supporting employees’ career development, our snobbery may be holding us back. By looking back at metrics of achievement that are becoming less relevant, we are unwilling to change. So long as we over rely on a “four-year degree” or a job title as the primary measurements of expected competence in a new job, we frown on skills development as something that is necessary only for people who aren’t “smart enough” or willing to incur crushing student debt.

We must get beyond this comfort with the familiar. It prevents us from cultivating people who can be successful in the new economy. Skills training must become a focus of all our educational institutions, including universities, community colleges and high schools. We must teach students not only facts and figures, but how to demonstrate their ability to apply learned skills. And, we must acknowledge that nontraditional sources of learning have a critical role to play.

In addition to embracing skills attainment in our education, we must also expand our willingness to create new avenues for workers to demonstrate competency. A new generation of businesses has been launched that provides employers with assessment tools they can use to evaluate the skills of potential employees. Emerging acceptance of certification of skill attainment is allowing people with diverse educational and work experiences to fill high paying jobs in IT and cyber security. These are some examples that demonstrate the potential for measurement and assessment to match up with skills development.

It’s time for our view of worker training and assessment to change for the better. Alex Murphy, CEO of EmployZone, a job search and skills development business, put it this way: “As our economy becomes more complex, the need for greater clarity on what skills a worker has and what skills they have the aptitude to develop increases.”

Skills based training and assessment will create a workforce that can compete for jobs on the basis of what they know. Who would argue against an economy based on merit?

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