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Is a college degree a "must" to get a good job? Is a college degree a "must" to get a good job?
by Joseph Gatt
2020-12-11 10:02:51
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That's what high school career counselors say. Then that's what college career counselors say. Then HR staff and CEOs say something completely different.

The system is a little bit messy in a lot of countries.

In many countries, universities have under-the-table (and formal) agreements with universities. If the high school sends universities their students, the high school gets a percentage of each student's tuition fees.

Then graduate schools get a percentage of each student that enrolls straight from college.

coll0001_400Then some universities pay the first month of salary or the first few months of salary of any former student (alumnus) that the company hires.

So of course high school career counselors are going to strongly urge students to go to college. High school career counselors will even try to choose this or that college for the student.

University career counselors are going to try to keep you in the university system, so they will say things like “if you want to be a chef at a small restaurant, you will need a Master's degree in culinary science.”

And then, many universities sign deals with 20, 30, 40 big and small businesses, by telling them that if those businesses hire their crowd, the company will have the first 3 or 4 months of wages taken care of by the university.

So of course university career counselors are going to try to push you to apply to ABC corporation or DEF corporation or any corporation they have an agreement with. And will try to prevent you from working at GHI corporation because they have no agreement with them, so they'll tell you something like “GHI corporation has a horrible reputation, they are about to collapse.”

But then I have met a few dozen small business (and big business) recruiters, honest ones at that.

What they usually tell me is that they don't mind college graduates and graduate school graduates. But they don't mind online training programs either. But what they really want is motivation, ability to learn, discipline and problem-solving.

So here are a few stories that the HR crowd and the CEO crowd have told me in the past.

-Several language school CEOs have told me that they have lots of trouble finding good language teachers. The university system trains language majors in linguistics and literature, but not in language teaching. And when you're teaching English, French, Spanish or Chinese to people who don't speak a word of it, knowledge of classical literature or advanced linguistics doesn't always come in handy.

So language school owners tend to prefer teachers who are either trained to teach foreign languages, or who have experience teaching foreign languages. They would rather hire someone who volunteered in Africa or Asia for 6 months teaching English, or someone who went through the Peace Corps teaching English, or someone who has a small certification for teaching languages. By the way they don't mind whether the teaching certification was obtained online or offline.

Of course there are some language school CEOs who want Master's degrees and Ph.D.s, but, a lot of times, they don't really know what they are doing. They tend to be those CEOs who have no idea what goes on inside the classroom, and who don't reflect too much on customer satisfaction or client retention.

-In the business world and in the IT world, I have encountered several HR staff and CEOs who have complained that they have trouble finding people with good “oral and written communication skills.”

That is the college graduate crowd, especially the younger generation, often has trouble drafting letters, emails or other information material like booklets and the like. Keep in mind that the new generation did not write their friends and families letters, they are the “chatting app” generation. And in college, they often “paraphrase” other people's papers, or pay someone to write their essays for them.

This is partly college professors that are at fault. College and graduate school professors often tell students “I don't want your opinion, I want the academic truth” and “you must cite all your sources” and that form of constrained writing leads to students who often can't describe the reality as it is in oral or written format.

So a lot of that HR and CEO crowd told me that if they see good communication skills, that's good enough for them. Education factors are not that important to them.

-In the science and engineering fields, a confession I've had a lot by many companies is that they hire almost exclusively Indians and Pakistanis because Indian and Pakistani scientists and engineers are “not distracted” and are “passionate about their work” and “install and fix the machine properly.”

When I asked for more information on that, I was told that In Europe, North America or East Asia, and elsewhere, engineering colleges usually “teach to the test” and that those students “study for the test and then forget everything.” Indians and Pakistanis however tend not to just study for the test, but tend to be lifelong learners, who love endless cups of tea over passionate debates about how to fix machines.

That's the attitude a lot of companies want.

-”Skills inflation” a lot of the HR crowd have confessed to me that some companies are completely disproportionate about the kind of skills they want when it comes to matching the job (that perhaps has something to do with companies getting funds from universities to hire their crowd).

For example, IT managers or computer maintenance officers really need a rather basic skillet, and a couple of training courses are more than enough to work at a small company in computer maintenance.

College trains the kind of computer coders to work for huge data centers where they must juggle several systems. But most small companies have rather basic computer and information technology systems, operate three or four different types of software, and rarely get a bug or need to install new software and get training on how to use it.

Another example is all the secretarial jobs, clerk jobs, or maintenance jobs that certainly do not need a college degree. HR staff like to joke to me that “I don't think you even need to graduate elementary school for that. Graduating kindergarten will get you the job if it were up to me.”


Serious HR officers tend to want “focused” and “driven” people to work at the company, when they get a lot of applications from college and graduate school graduates who “seem to have a break from reality.”

But then, you need to factor in all the financial arrangements between high schools, colleges and businesses. Those arrangements do more harm than good when it comes to training and hiring talent.

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