Do Skills Matter More Now than Education?
In the early 2000s, there was a comedy musical that was well ahead of its time that took Broadway by storm featuring twenty-something puppets singing openly about financial issues, racism, and homosexuality.
One song that musical theatre enthusiasts instantly fell in love with had the lyrics: “What do you do with a B.A. in English/What is my life going to be?/Four years of college and plenty of knowledge/Have earned me this useless degree/I can’t pay the bills yet/’Cause I have no skills yet/The world is a big scary place.”
It’s been 20 years and these verses ring true until today. While it’s thoroughly impressive if one can recite the poems of Edgar Allan Poe or the philosophical musings of Friedrich Nietzsche, this ability doesn’t help pay the bills.
Thus, if you’re heading off to college or university and still deciding on a roadmap for your career, looking into programs that are skills-focused may be a better option than knowledge-based ones.
Skills-based: What exactly does this mean?
Skills-based may be a term you’ve heard before but don’t fully understand what it refers to. Simply put, it refers to abilities developed through practical means, whether through daily life or work. It’s in contrast to knowledge-based which refers to abilities developed through reading and having a grasp of concepts in a theoretical sense.
For instance, an aspiring chef may have read all the culinary-related books they could get their hands on, but these aren’t a guarantee that they’ll become a good chef. They have to learn how to cut vegetables properly and know how to take proper measurements of ingredients by actually doing these tasks. Relying merely on what they read on paper won’t work. Kendall Jenner most probably read how to cut cucumbers correctly somewhere, but she certainly didn’t know how to do it.
A skills-based approach to hiring.
Placing more weight on skills rather than knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean that an academic degree doesn’t hold any worth anymore. It simply means that employers are willing to look past the lack of an academic degree if job candidates can prove themselves qualified for the positions because of the skills they have.
For example, say there’s a job posting for an engagement coordinator for a university’s Government Relations Office that calls for a degree in Political Science, Public Policy, Communications, or History. One candidate boasts of this requirement but doesn’t have any skills. The other candidate had to defer studies for a year due to personal reasons. However, this candidate has experience working in a not-for-profit environment and has interacted with the government and the private sector. At the same time, this candidate is making up for lost time by taking a few credits per semester to complete the program.
In previous years, the first candidate would have the clear advantage, but with more employers now focusing on a skills-based approach to hiring, that advantage is not as clear anymore.
Skills-based hiring is the future.
According to a study by Joseph Fuller, Christina Langer, and Matt Sigelman published in the Harvard Business Review, skills-based hiring is on the rise. Employers now have also become aware of how important skills are for a position that they now describe the capabilities they look for in a candidate in more explicit detail than before.
As a result, job seekers are making more effort to update their resumes to include the skills being demanded for a position. It’s become more of a “don’t merely say, show” way of thinking.
Obtaining an academic degree is an achievement, no doubt. However, if one doesn’t possess the necessarily skills to back up what they offer on paper, then a degree isn’t much use. These days, being able to do something is definitely more valuable than merely knowing how to do something.
Doyle, Allison. “What Is a Skill Set?” The Balance Careers. https://www.thebalancecareers.com/what-is-a-skill-set-2062103.
Fuller, Joseph, Christina Langer, and Matt Sigelman. “Skills-Based Hiring Is on the Rise.” Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/02/skills-based-hiring-is-on-the-rise.
Gorsky, Emily. “What is the difference between skill and knowledge-based learning?” OpenColleges. https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/blog/2020/04/27/what-is-the-difference-between-skill-and-knowledge-based-learning/.
Vander Ark, Tom. “The Rise Of Skills-Based Hiring And What It Means For Education.” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomvanderark/2021/06/29/the-rise-of-skills-based-hiring-and-what-it-means-for-education/?sh=227b64754fa7.