Education, Job Markets, and Uncertainty

There’s a cloud of uncertainty hovering around what the future might hold for those of us who’re looking for jobs or are currently studying in school. Questions like: “will I be able to find a job?”, “should I even finish my degree?”, or “does it make sense to pay this much in tuitions for a degree that might not lead to a job?” could be bouncing around in our thoughts. In this series, I’m going to touch upon some ideas and concepts on the macro level about the landscape of education and job markets, in hopes that it might provide a framework for dealing with such uncertainties. 

Let’s jump right into it. The pandemic and as a result, the fear induced by it within our economy (for good reason perhaps) seem to be accelerating changes that would have otherwise likely occurred at a slower pace. For instance, online learning, remote work, and virtual events are now fully integrated into our lives, the fundamentals of our economic system design are being challenged, and notions of money and banking are undergoing rapid development. Universities have resorted to online lectures and remote methods for learning, banks are allowing you to register for a bank account online without the need to pick up the phone or visit a branch, and government tax agencies are embracing technology and banking integrations to smoothen the user experience for taxpayers for the purpose of COVID related relief programs. It’s interesting to see how quickly things are evolving. This rapid change is what causes uncertainty for many of us, we’re stepping away from the typical equilibrium state of the world and witnessing emergence of many fundamental changes. With no guarantees that we’ll end up going back to the same equilibrium state as before, uncertainties are at an all-time high.  Technically, this “cloud of uncertainty” is almost always hovering over our heads, there’s always a set of unknowns in life, but it’s much more tangible when the pace of change picks up – as it has now. As a rule of thumb, drastic changes confined to short timeframes tend to test the weaknesses of a system and what we’re experiencing now is likely an instance of the same phenomena. Within the context of our global economy for example: processes or systems which aren’t built on a solid foundation or aren’t meeting the demands of the times are likely to take the biggest hits and be up in the priority sequence for reform. For example, one might expect the form factor of global trades, financial systems, and ultimately job markets to change drastically in order to meet the new criteria set by environmental, societal, and geopolitical factors. Furthermore, because of advancements in tech, we’re now able to make changes and innovate more quickly and easily than before, which can cause new changes to come in before we’ve had a chance to settle down and get comfortable with previous changes. This itself creates an abundance of weak spots or opportunities – depending on how one chooses to view things – within the system that need our attention. Needless to say, this can lead to lots of uncertainty, confusion, and fear within a given society. 

we’re able to innovate more quickly than ever before, which can cause new changes to come in before we’ve had a chance to settle down and get comfortable with previous changes.

Now onto the relation of these drastic changes with employment and education…  

Recent events leading up to the dotcom bubble and what’s taken place in the decades that followed have led to new demands from job markets and educational systems. Job markets have found ways to adapt as they’re mostly represented by the private sector which is generally nimbler. We’re seeing higher employee turnover, higher demand for specializations in tech, more short-term engagements, intrapreneurial mindsets, and gig-economy types of collaborations. However, the same cannot be said about the foundations of our formal education systems. The pace of change has been so fast that our educational systems haven’t had a chance to adapt. High school curriculum, undergraduate programs, and graduate degrees at large work in much the same way they have for the past decades. Despite this fact, the private sector and in some cases government organizations have found ways to penetrate educational environments through supporting and funding on-campus entrepreneurial activities and creating environments that support and foster innovation. Though the basic form factor of education remains largely the same. 

Looking at things through a lens of change and innovation, it’s not hard to see that currently deployed educational systems need some work: not every child raised in the 90’s had access to computers or the internet from an early age, but nowadays children are exposed to a large amount of information early on, information that might not necessarily be served with any form of purpose or order. This alone is a strong indicator that a closer tie between digital media and formal educational systems is on the horizon. 

Aside from that, consumerism is on the rise, more and more companies have their roots in the service industry rather than production and manufacturing, which translates to competitive environments with heavy competition for capturing the attention of consumers. Our companies and enterprises require ongoing improvements and learnings from their employees so they could push the envelope, partially because most businesses need to innovate in order to stay relevant in the eyes of consumers. Employees in turn feel the need – for good reason – to constantly improve, learn new skills, and stay relevant by keeping themselves up to date. It’s one gigantic feedback loop that comes down to our needs and wants as a society to grow and improve. Given this rapid pace of innovation, it’s a great time to look at more relevant means of learning so that we can educate ourselves effectively and efficiently. This is not to say that university or college degree programs are obsolete, but more so to highlight market demands for continuous education and learning. The emergence of online learning platforms and bootcamps cater to these needs to some degree, however, there’s still lots of room for further innovation and improvements. We’re a long way from creating individually tailored learning solutions that are fully integrated with job markets. 

Given the trends we discussed around education and job markets, it’s worth asking whether a university or college degree is worth the cost and if it will help advance one’s career. To answer this question, we’ll be publishing a series of blog posts that examine this issue from different perspectives. But for now, here’s something I want to leave you with: if you were tasked to choose a team member to build a product, and you had two choices, options A and B, with only the following pieces of information: 

Option A 

  • Degrees from top rated universities 
  • Not sure if he/she can carry out the task at hand

Option B

  • No degrees at all
  • You are sure that he/she can get the job done 

Which candidate would you choose and why? I encourage you to think about the relationship between the degree held by a candidate and his/her ability to get the job done; is there a strong correlation? is there a relation at all? Can anyone learn the necessary fundamentals needed for their line of work without the discipline induced by formal education/degree programs? Are there any worthwhile learning and career path navigation solutions available outside of the school, college, or university environments? Am I a strong self-learner? Which path best suits me? How much does an average employer care about a degree? How much will they care in a few years? These are questions that I would ask myself if I were in that position. The answers are different for every individual, there’s no right or wrong answers here.  

We’re happy to hear your thoughts, feel free to reach out and connect with us on social media or through email. Till our next post! 

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