Article: Is it the end of an era for traditional degrees? Leaders chime in at Davos

Employment Landscape

Is it the end of an era for traditional degrees? Leaders chime in at Davos

We've been stuck on the veneration of paper qualifications for far too long, said industry leaders and domain experts at last week's World Economic Forum meeting in Davos - it's time to move on to a more inclusive alternative.
Is it the end of an era for traditional degrees? Leaders chime in at Davos

80% of CEOs in the technology sectors do not believe college degrees are important, stated Hadi Partovi, CEO of Code.org as he and other thought leaders discussed the key to unlocking employment for all at this year's World Economic Forum gathering.

The discussion zoomed in on one fact: the importance of prioritising skills over traditional degrees offered by universities.

What the leaders said

Living in the age of the great resignation, or as some call it, the great reflection, has made the world rethink the relevance of the education system with respect to the needs and demands of the industry. According to business leaders and thought leaders, the current approach is not just outdated but also shuts out groups of people, including refugees and immigrants, who could otherwise be a potential boost to the workforce. Hence, the industry’s obsession with degrees is a hindrance in two ways. One, it limits the talent pool for employers. Two, it worsens the issue of post-pandemic global unemployment.

Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera, hailed online learning as the “legacy of the pandemic” as it shattered the preconceived notion of place-based education. Also, it dismantled the reliability of jobs over degrees. As the Internet reaches the nooks and corners of the world, it is becoming possible, more than ever, to learn a fruitful skillset through micro-credentials irrespective of the background one belongs to. 

There is a stark contrast between the world pre-pandemic and everything after that not just concerning virtual education but also remote working. Maggioncalda said that it is the democratisation of education through online learning which has helped in getting a diverse pipeline of talent. 

Resonating with his viewpoint, Judith Wiese, Chief People and Sustainability Officer at Siemens, gave a more industry-focused perspective addressing training as an investment. With the constant labour shortage and the increasing need for labour working in the fields of software and digital space development, upskilling and reskilling becomes tremendously significant. “Somebody who was a mechanic ten years ago now needs to have the skills of a mechatronic”, said Wiese, referring to the combination of mechanical and software engineering skills.

She also presented as an example the German heritage of the apprenticeship system at Siemens, which takes skills close to learning and application rather than degree. Wiese calls it the “combination of schooling and training” wherein skills are brought to the place it is applied.

“If we move towards a more skills-based approach and think more about the experience and less about degrees and certificates, then, we look often to apprenticeship systems as a good role model”, agreed Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School.

As much as investments and training and development are becoming a need of the hour, the leaders pointed out that it is an equally essential time to reinvent the education system. Conversations on and about the futility of the grading systems of the biggest educational institutions and their incapability to prepare students for the market have gained traction since the pandemic and surge in digitalisation. 

Partovi proposed, “We should first figure out the right skills within the education system and work in a way where students pick which path they want to go and learn in a more personalised way while learning with AIs and tutors, not without them. Students’ mastery should be the way to decide whether they graduate or not…the whole concept of grades should be adjusted for a world of personalised and lifelong learning where you (the students) are learning the skills you need to enter the workforce.”

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Topics: Employment Landscape, Skilling

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