According to qualifications assessor, Andrew Smith, the debate between the employable value of certifications versus diplomas is pointless, yet one that persists among industry year after year. On one hand, he argues, degrees are the foundation for a lifelong learning journey and supports career progression. Certifications, on the other hand, reflect more of a micro view of a person’s measurable aptitude within a skills-oriented domain.
In other words:
Degrees = A good measure of a person’s long-term capability within a given discipline Certifications = a good measure of professional capability and immediate employability.
As we look at the current unfilled workforce crisis at hand, the valuation of either one is perhaps best quantified through the lens of simple math.
- 2.1 million jobs are projected to go unfilled this decade, costing the US economy up to $2.5 trillion by 2025
- Of those 2.1 million jobs, 75% do not require a college degree, but some post-secondary training, typically aligned with 2-year certification programs
- There are approximately 3.8 million US high school graduates each year
- 2025 is two years away
We don’t have a people problem in filling our workforce, but a skilled people problem, specifically within industries like healthcare, information technology, and advanced manufacturing, where Bachelor’s Degrees are not typically required for most jobs. For a competitive advantage in today’s immediate job market, certifications should have a huge leg up on the more traditional post-secondary pathways, including the fact that those assessments adapt to the workforce landscape typically faster than academic institutions do.
As such, many high schools have implemented hands-on CTE programs that provide students with real-world experience in those industries right around them, offering internships and other work-based learning opportunities to help students gain experience right out of high school. But the extent to which they can do this varies depending on a variety of factors, such as the location of the school, the resources available, and the preferences of the students and families.
So as the discussion surrounding which post-secondary path to take persists, does our skills gap. Indeed the percentage of high schools promoting more diverse post-secondary pathways is increasing as educators and policymakers recognize the importance of preparing students for a variety of career paths, but is it fast enough to make an impact when we need it most?
Are you considering hiring for skills versus degrees? We’d love to hear from you below!