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Recruiting self-taught employees

Relaxing educational requirements to find candidates with the right skills

By Brian Kreissl 

I have mentioned a few times how there is a growing backlash against formal education nowadays. With the high cost of tuition, the lacklustre job market for post-secondary graduates, the popularity of skilled trades and STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs), e-learning platforms, video-sharing sites such as YouTube, Wikipedia, instructional books, online forums, discussion boards and coding academies/boot camps, many people are starting to advocate foregoing college or university altogether in the pursuit of practical knowledge and skills. 

There is no question people who advise bright and ambitious young people not to attend post-secondary education have a point. Starting a business, completing an apprenticeship or internship, volunteering, taking an entry level job and working one’s way up within an organization and pursuing less formal education and training can be excellent alternative ways of establishing a career and learning the skills needed to be successful. 

It is also true many young graduates are having a difficult time securing meaningful work and are frequently graduating with a heavy debt load. Many people are recommending young people forego traditional post-secondary education in favour of other ways of starting a career and obtaining the necessary knowledge and skills. 

For instance, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel established the Thiel Fellowship in 2010 to provide US$100,000 to post-secondary students and encourage them to drop out of college and pursue startups and other ventures. In part, the fellowship was launched to help deflate the education “bubble” and show that post-secondary education isn’t necessary for success — particularly with respect to endeavours such as entrepreneurship. 

Showcasing knowledge and skills online 

Modern technology makes it possible for many people to showcase their self-taught knowledge, skills and abilities and even sell their services. For instance, software programmers, web developers and designers, graphics designers, authors, journalists, bloggers, photographers, artists, illustrators, film makers, copywriters and marketing professionals are able to create online portfolios to showcase their work to potential clients and employers. Online platforms also support finding and searching for knowledge and provide an opportunity to obtain, practise and refine newly acquired skills. 

This applies not only with respect to the new “gig” or “sharing” economy for short-term freelance assignments and “slashers” who practise more than one career simultaneously, but also in terms of those looking to land full-time work. Indeed, several employers have relaxed educational requirements for candidates in recent years and have become more willing to hire non-traditional candidates with skills that were acquired other than through formal post-secondary education. 

By focusing more on skills and competencies — regardless of how they were acquired — employers can expand the pool of candidates, support social and economic mobility, increase diversity, reduce bias and cronyism and possibly adjust to the reality of a workforce with fewer post-secondary graduates. 

None of this is to say higher education has no value or that professions such as law, medicine or engineering can or should dispense with the need for specific educational qualifications. After all, I am a firm believer in lifelong learning and believe completing a degree is a great way to build resiliency and flexibility in one’s career. 

I also don’t think this trend is actually going to completely ameliorate the challenges faced by workers without postsecondary education. After all, because it’s often very difficult to prove self-taught skills and employers tend to use education as a screening tool, I don’t think university degrees are going to become extinct any time soon. Educational inflation and credentialism are probably here to stay — at least for the foreseeable future. 

Tips for employers 

But employers can help facilitate the recruitment of self-taught employees by relaxing or dispensing with degree requirements, testing candidates on their technical and professional skills and requesting portfolios of completed work. This approach can apply to people with little formal education as well as career changers, those with education in different disciplines and people with considerably less educational pedigree than the norm for the industry or position in question. 

Above all, it is important to remember there are many ways to acquire knowledge, skills and abilities beyond formal education. Indeed, the 70/20/10 model of learning and development created by Morgan McCall and his colleagues provides that roughly 70 per cent of learning should come from on-the-job learning, 20 per cent from coaching and mentoring and only 10 per cent through formal learning and reading.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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  • RE: Continued drive for lower wages
    Wednesday, January 13, 2016 8:31:00 PM by Brian Kreissl
    You are, of course, entitled to your opinions on the merits (or lack thereof) of this post. However, I believe your thoughts about what I was trying to say here are about 180 degrees diametrically opposite of my actual message!

    We are in a society where employers are now requiring a bachelor's degree for the simplest of jobs, and a job that used to require a bachelor's degree at most now requires a master's (as well as a huge laundry list of skills and qualifications). On top of that, the cost of education continues to skyrocket, and we find that education becomes devalued because just about everyone has a B.A. these days.

    In the past, dedicated and ambitious people could teach themselves many of the skills necessary to be successful in their careers or learn them on the job - but then we started having an educational arms race. Fortunately, technology is now creating a situation whereby people can learn and showcase some of the skills they need through self-directed learning and their own websites. I think it is a good way to help people of modest means gain the skills needed to be successful, not a way to drive down salaries by replacing credentialed people with those lacking in educational qualifications. People shouldn't have to go into debt to the tune of five or six figures to start their careers or learn what they need to know in order to be successful.

    If you actually followed my blog you would know that the last thing I want to do is create some kind of low wage sweatshop or increase income inequality in a society where the rich are getting richer and the poor seem to be getting poorer (and the middle class appears to be shrinking). You also picked on the wrong person if you think I'm knocking formal education or professional qualifications!

    I will, however, agree with one thing you said. Organizations have dramatically cut their training and development budgets, and that's a real problem!