The College of the Future ... for Jobs

The college admissions scandal has raised the question: Will fancy degrees matter going forward?

Admit it. You are appalled by the news, but can’t stop reading about the college cheating scandal. Yet in today’s shifting job environment, all the unethical payoffs that parents made to get their kids into elite schools raise one obvious question: Where do fancy degrees really get people?  

Certainly, an Ivy League degree is a ticket to success and studies show college degrees pay off in the long run. But in today’s economy, where job-hopping is the norm and the average worker spends only about four years in each role, some experts say the name on your diploma won’t matter to your career growth as much as the skills you learn at different jobs. Here's how to amp up those abilities now.

In the long term, we may end up entering into an apprentice model.

After all, many companies are already hiring for skills—not for specific jobs or pedigree, leading many recruiters to try to find talent wherever it may lie. Indeed, for talent markets in your future, “the value of broad ‘badges’ like a degree from a particular institution will naturally decrease,” says Melissa Swift, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry.

Train on the job.

With job tenures shrinking, the ability to learn more at every new job is paramount for success. While U.S. companies are spending more than ever to train their employees—$91 billion in 2017—there are plenty of ways to learn and immerse yourself in a role, sans a formal program. Knowing the ins and outs of markets and the nuances of your position will only help you remain agile—and help you make your next move. “No matter what the employment picture looks like or how in-demand your skills are, you must constantly upgrade your knowledge to stay relevant,” says Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry. 

Alter your career path.

In today’s nomad economy, where job-hopping is the norm, the path to higher levels isn’t so much a ladder as it is a lattice. Career pros say leaders are now evaluated for their time spent in a variety of positions and departments, making a hierarchical climb less attractive than a zig-zag that allows a professional to experience different niches. What’s more, the traditional path of going back to school for another degree—the path many baby boomers and Gen Xers took—doesn’t necessarily matter as much anymore. In a survey of Korn Ferry CEOs assessed last year, 16% had doctoral degrees, compared to 19% in 2015.  

Figure out your specialty.

In industries where competition remains fierce, having a niche matters more than being a Renaissance man or woman. “You won’t be successful if you’re a generalist in technology,” says Samantha Wallace, technology market leader for Korn Ferry Professional Search in North America. “Specialization and precision is the key.” Down the line, “we may end up entering into an apprentice model, where the education is not very generalist but focused on technical schooling,” says Deepali Vyas, a senior client partner at Korn Ferry. So for now, replicating that model is likely to pay dividends as you move through your career.

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