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Dear ReWorker: Universities are going digital. Does this mean that MOOCs, training courses and independently gained skills are just as good as the university experience? Should we change our hiring criteria?

Sincerely,

Open Minded

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Dear Open Minded,

Funny you should ask! Google just introduced Google Career Certificates that train you in a specified, high-demand field in less time than it would take to get a college degree in that same industry. I have a feeling these will be increasingly marketable in the future—it’s going to be increasingly hard for universities to claim you can’t learn effectively via an online program when they’re taking many of their programs online—even if the changes are temporary.

That said, I’m still a fan of in-person learning, as one of the hallmarks of good teaching is adjusting the day’s lecture based student reactions. But we’re not here to argue whether online learning can replace the university experience. Still, online learning is incredibly effective—it has been shown to not only improve information retention rate, but also raise the graduation rate when offered as a learning option at colleges. 

So, long story short: Yes, you should change your hiring approach with this in mind.

Learning in the New Normal

As more Americans attend college and earn four-year degrees, their value in the marketplace continues to drop—so much so, in fact, that you see people requesting bachelor’s degrees for jobs in coffee shops. But, instead of saying, “Wow, if we need a bachelor’s degree to serve coffee, we must need a master’s degree to be an analyst,” people are starting to say, “What does English 101 and a bowling class have to do with data science?”

As companies grow increasingly concerned about skills gaps, they’re starting to look at actual skills, not degrees. While a broad, liberal arts education is, for lack of a better word, nice, it’s unnecessary for all jobs. A liberal arts degree is an impressive achievement, but it's not necessary for all jobs. A college/university degree doesn't mean that a candidate has the specific set of skills needed for the job.

Online classes and certifications, meanwhile, are typically more specific and targeted towards a person’s career focus. Therefore, they can often be more indicative of a candidate’s skills. For a data science position, for example, programming courses from CodeAcademy are much more practical than an economics major from a top college. And when it comes to management positions, courses or seminars on the art of communication and leadership can be significant as well.

But beware: Anybody can post a course on the internet and provide a “certificate” that participants can print out. You’ll want to verify that the certificates that people have come from legitimate sources or cover legitimate material. In addition to the certificate, regardless if it’s from an online course or an educational institution, you should always give applicants a skills test to get a true measurement of proficiency. 

As we enter the new normal of learning and work, the important thing is to find individuals with the best skills for the job. And those can be gained in any number of ways. Don’t limit yourself to candidates that have four-year degrees; instead, look for people who have the skills you need. 

Education is important, but there is more than one way to learn, including: online courses, individual certificates, internships and apprenticeships. Expand your horizons when looking for candidates and look for skills rather than degrees when hiring. If you do this, you’ll see the skills shortage melt away.

Sincerely,

Your ReWorker

Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady 

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