While the value and significance of education in our society is widely touted by citizens, politicians, and business leaders, there has always been debate surrounding whether a college degree adequately prepares graduates for the workplace. With rising tuition costs, more demand for jobs, and the dated career model of routine office jobs leading to 40-year careers all but nonexistent, it may be time to rethink our understanding of the impact and application of learning.
To start, it’s a tall order for teenagers fresh out of high school to articulate or comprehend their long-term career intentions. How many people do you know who majored in one subject only to end up working in an unrelated field? Whether or not you’ve chosen the right industry, a college degree does not automatically equip you with the right skill set for your future job.
According to a recent survey, nearly 90% of all recent college graduates considered themselves well prepared for their jobs. However, only half of hiring managers shared that opinion.1 This points to the fact that much of the important learning we do—that is, the learning that helps us do our jobs well—happens on the job, not from a textbook.
The traditional model of education, while checking the box of social and economic norms, does not mesh well with our fast-moving and constantly evolving business world. Further, as the expectation to choose one lifelong profession disappears, people are constantly reinventing themselves and making drastic career changes that create skills gaps that demand to be filled.2
A commentary by The Economist3 states that today, the rapid pace of technological changes calls for an education revolution. It’s simply not enough for people to cram schooling in at the start of their careers. Indeed, as our working lives are becoming longer and people change jobs and career fields more frequently, education must continue so that we can acquire new skills to keep pace with our changing interests as well as the changes to our environment.
While this need for continuous upskilling and training has increased with our culture of technology and innovation, the rates of on-the-job training have actually fallen in the past two decades in America and Britain.
Further, in a survey of middle managers, training and development ranked as the second most important factor for employees at work, behind only work-life balance and ahead of managers who cares about their staff.4
The most practical solution is for companies and organizations to enable and encourage their workers to learn, by supporting a culture of knowledge-sharing and mentorships, and by allocating their budgets to support tuition or course costs. By investing in their talent, companies will reap the rewards by developing people who can contribute strategically, adapt to ongoing changes, and think outside the box.
Adopting a culture of learning requires a shift in mindset, starting from the top and trickling through HR departments. By making on-the-job training accessible, conventional, and worthwhile, employees across all industries and positions can all participate in lifelong learning to further their careers and improve organizational efficiency.