Business and labour are working together to create new sorts of trainingFinancial Times Logo - GT

by Rana Foroohar and Edward Luce

My teenage daughter is a born academic who has excelled in both primary and secondary education in a state system that rewards the sort of compulsive studying that she actually enjoys, writes, Rana Forrohar.

My 11-year old son, on the other hand, is a high Q entrepreneurial sort who can move $100 bucks of lemonade in under an hour from the stand he likes to set up in front of our Brooklyn brownstone. He’d much rather kick a ball or make a sale than do his homework.

This has sometimes worried me, since top tier universities have come crazily competitive in the US (call me helicopter mom, but I’m guessing I’m not the only one who thinks this far ahead). But perhaps I shouldn’t fret, because it’s possible that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, traditional academic performance and credentials may become less, rather than more, important in the future.

There’s a big discussion going on about all this right now. William Deresiewicz’ book “Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life” examines how linear US high-end education has become. Any number of Silicon Valley billionaires cum college drop outs prove out Peter Theil’s thesis that conventional education can actually hamper creativity and entrepreneurial zeal. Meanwhile, many businesses are beginning to rethink the biases which have them hiring only four-year liberal arts course graduates for entry level jobs.

One recent Harvard Business School study found that “degree inflation” is hurting the bottom line of firms. Three in five employers report difficultly filling middle-skills jobs — positions which, skill-wise, don’t actually require a college degree, yet are open only to four-year grads because of corporate credentialism. This hurts the economy in many ways — less hiring, higher youth unemployment, huge amounts of student debt, a cap on labour mobility and so on.

The good news is that there seems to be a sea change happening, with business and labour working together to create new sorts of training and widely-accepted credentials that allow younger workers without a 4-year degree a leg up. The AFL-CIO, the Business Roundtable, Microsoft and the Lumina Foundation are supporting a group called Credential Engine, which aims to connect employers to workers with skills as opposed to schools. The CEO of Cisco recently told me about an effort that he and others in the tech world will debut in Davos focused on some of the same things. Gerald Chertavian, the founder and CEO of Year Up, a non-profit that aims to place talented young people without college degrees in high level jobs by partnering with companies on one-year training internships, says such programs can move someone without a degree into a $40,000-a-year job in 12 months. “These programs allow companies to trial talent and train workers. It’s supply chain management for talent.” 

The key point here: great talent comes in all shapes and sizes. And as I explore in my column this week, workers should be an asset, not just a cost, on the balance sheet.

Otherwise, here’s what I’ve been reading:

My colleague John Gapper’s fine take on the history of antitrust regulation and why we need to rethink it for the digital age.

An interesting perspective on net neutrality from Tyler Cowen, who has come to think we’re just fine without it. And if we think we have political trouble with Facebook here in the US, Bloomberg’s Lauren Etter shows how bad things can get.

EDWARD LUCE RESPONDS Rana’s note prompts two thoughts. First, I do hope her son does not subscribe to Swamp Notes! That said, I think there’s encouragement for him in there, too. When Barack Obama said in his 2013 State of the Union that every American should graduate from four-year college by 2020, my immediate thought was that this sounded very ambitious. My more considered one — to which I still hold — is that it was the wrong ambition. One size fits all is precisely not what the future of work demands; quite the opposite. As a species, our skills and aptitudes vary as much as our personalities. One benefit of the tech revolution is that it is forcing us to think far more about this. Credentials are overrated. So Rana and I agree on that. Now, if we could just persuade employers to treat their workers as assets, not costs, utopia would be just around the corner . . .

FURTHER READING How the middle class got lost in the GOP rush to cut taxes The Republican tax plan that may soon become law looks little like the middle class tax cut that Donald Trump promised, in a sign of “how traditional Republican orthodoxy swamped Trump’s distinctive brand of economic populism as it moved through Washington”. (WaPo)

Four hours of TV a day That is how much Donald Trump watches — and sometimes it’s twice that, according to this exhaustive account “inside Trump’s hour-by-hour battle for preservation”. (NYT)

‘Most Americans don’t realise how close we are to this war’ So says US Senator Tammy Duckworth about her fears that the Trump administration is marching toward a potentially catastrophic war with North Korea. (Vox)

Janet Yellen didn’t set out to be a feminist hero But that’s just how her many fans see her as she prepares to leave her position as chair of the Federal Reserve. (NYT)


Read online here.