Do staffers still need that college degree?

Do staffers still need that college degree?

People once believed that a university degree was necessary to be successful in the modern world. The facts suggest otherwise; studies show that skilled workers without a degree are actually thriving, and more so than they’ve been in the past. Let’s look at why this is the case. 

The Degree Dilemma

Higher education is getting more expensive. In the UK, for example, students are drowning in debt from student loans and increasingly costly living expenses. A staggering £20 billion loan is handed to 1.5 million university students each year, with the highest outstanding debt amounting to over £230,000.

To make matters worse, there is the issue of the graduate jobs gap, a phenomenon in which graduates struggle to find employment that suits their hard-earned qualifications. In fact, graduates from 2020 onwards face a 12.7% unemployment rate, which is equivalent to about 96,000 graduates from each academic year. That begs the question: is a college degree even worth it in this day and age?

The rise of the non-graduate workforce

It is not a surprise, then, that a growing number of students opt out of higher education and proceed to join the workforce. The pandemic helped accelerate the trend, and the 4% drop in graduate workers’ average earnings made going to colleges and universities a less attractive prospect. 

A degree definitely gives prospective workers an edge at getting a job, as evidenced by their high employment rates compared to non-degree holders. However, non-graduates are starting to make it big in the world of the employed. 

Why the shift?

A Pew Research study shows that, while degree holders have higher wages and better opportunities in the long run, the wage gap between college graduates and non-graduates is beginning to narrow down. This shows that companies are placing increasing value on workers, regardless of their educational attainment, the reasons being as follows:

  • Skills gap in certain industries. With low unemployment rates across the US in the past decade, employers have difficulty finding workers that match their skills-based qualifications. Furthermore, the mass-resignations during and after the pandemic made companies rethink their hiring and retention strategies, opening more opportunities for people with the right skill set, regardless if they have a degree.
  • Rise of alternative qualifications. Extensive practical training is no longer exclusive to tertiary education. Apprenticeship programmes, training boot camps and online certifications now let non-graduates pick up key skills without spending money on higher education.
  • Focus on soft skills. Many companies now value skills like communication, collaboration and problem-solving, the likes of which are developed through experience and environment. People can acquire these skills outside universities, making degrees irrelevant where soft skills are a priority. 

It should be noted that the shift happened roughly 10 years ago, with unemployment in the US at an all time low resulting in tight job markets. This is considered a turning point from the depreciation of skilled labour which started in the ‘70s – a trend resulting from the growing use of automation and movement away from unionisation and manufacturing. 

Success without a degree: A look at different paths

Although a college degree has always been a gateway to profitable career opportunities, the high cost of higher education makes getting one a less attractive prospect for many. The growing skills gap and focus on skills over degrees gives non-graduates a chance to shine, while alternative training programs prove that college is not the only path to a fulfilling professional life.. 

About Sam P

EnterpriseZone Staff Writer

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