Does degree = job?

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money-grad
By Christine Barton

Campus News

Career preparedness consists of a variety of skill sets, many of these are learned in college while others have nothing at all to do with a degree program.  The truth is that being considered “prepared” or “qualified” for a job is often in the eye of the person doing the hiring. There has been more attention given most recently to the topic of our educational system as a whole and if the United States is doing the best we can in high school and college to prepare students for the job market. The question becomes what does it really mean to be prepared for a job?   

Does college prepare students for their job or does the job assume the responsibility of training and teaching the essentials?  In many cases a new employer expects that after hiring an employee there will be a close observation period that includes orientation and training to acclimate new employees to the tasks and specifics of their job responsibilities. Jessica Kiernan is a recent graduate of the Nursing program at Maria College in Albany. Jessica earned her first degree in Criminal Justice from a community college before she returned to school for nursing.  She has been employed as a Registered Nurse (RN) for just about a month now. Jessica states that while her formal schooling at Maria gave her the fundamentals of nursing, her life experience and prior work history aided in her preparedness for her new job as an RN. The first weeks on the job as an RN consisted of orientation and observation while the more focused training actually occurs on the job with the supervision and mentorship of a seasoned RN.  Learning the everyday skills of her nursing position is a “gradual process of on the job training”, states Jessica.  When asked about how her formal schooling could have better prepared her for her current job, she stated that increased clinical experience and internship time would have allowed her to get more hands on training in the nursing field.  

What Does Job-Ready Really Mean?
Most employers value the ability to think critically, evaluate situations and lead teams, especially in non-entry level positions. Job seekers have to prove they have these skills in an interview more often than they are asked to produce test scores or grade point averages. These traits are looked at by employers as be more of a sought after skill than having a Regents diploma or getting in the top percentile on a standardized test.

Hard and Soft Skills
Many of the skills learned in college are considered “soft” skills that are typically those that relate to human relationships and interactions.  Communication, negotiating, relating to others, and team building are a few examples of soft skills that provide students with personal growth and development; all of which are necessary in any career path. Learning these skills does not necessarily mean that the student will leave school with the ability to perform a job related task.  A hard skill consists of a specific task that can be taught and learned and generally produces a tangible outcome such as building a bookshelf or fixing a car.  

Hard and soft skills are important and aid in the development of a student but for purposes of working into a successful career after college, which skill sets are more attractive to an employer and beneficial to a college graduate when it comes to getting a job? The answer to that may depend on a variety of factors. If your profession is School Counseling, the soft skills such as listening and interpreting may be largely important for your profession and therefore specifically prepare you for your career. If you are going into Computer Programming, employers may value a student’s ability to work a spreadsheet, design a software program or collect statistics in an unbiased way. Employers also look at things like extra curricular activities, volunteer work and internships when hiring.  

Recent Trends
The most recent U.S. Census Bureau data offers that 19 percent of Americans hold a bachelor’s degree and about 31 percent have only a high school diploma. The mean income for a college graduate is about $59,000 while a high school graduate is approximately $31,000. This suggests that there is value in the degree but does that mean that the candidate with the degree is more job-ready than the candidate without it?  The current state of the job market increases the competition between those applicants who have degrees and those who don’t but still may be qualified for the job. Applicants with and without higher education are often competing for the same jobs. Employers are sometimes forced to make the least expensive choice.

In many career fields employers do value hands-on experience over a college degree. Many careers that do not require a degree but pay well often have risks or highly specialized tasks that are associated with the trade. Construction, carpentry, heating and electrical work and some supervisory positions in the trade industry are among the examples of careers that traditionally value years of experience over a degree.  

CareerBuilder.com, which obtained their salary statistics from CBSalary.com in 2011, discussed a few of the up and coming employment trends. Here are a few of the recent high salary jobs in the United States that do not come with degree requirements:

*   Construction Equipment Operator-Average salary – $53,543
*   Cable Supervisor – Average salary-$76,739
*   Electrical Repair Technician-Average salary – $58,960
*   Real Estate Broker-Average salary – $79,494
*   Home Health Aid Supervisor-Average salary – $69,601

College is expensive, this goes without saying. The increased unemployment rate and ever inflating cost of education may be the reason for some of the new employment trends.  When demand exceeds supply it changes the profile of the workforce. While a degree may get you in the door quicker and may inflate your salary in an organization, in some industries it may not take a front seat to the demand for workers, prior experience and specialized training.  

According to recent statistics there are some industries that can be expected to grow in the near future. The field of technology and web design is a fast growing industry. This growth is based on projected demand and need for qualified workers in certain fields in the country. Some do require college degrees while others do not.  Based on recent statistics taken from polls done by Careerpath.com, here are just a few of these up and coming career paths.  

*   Medical Records Specialists
*   Organic Food Farmer
*   Genetic Counselor
*   Social Media Security and Management
*   Mobile Web Application Developer

Being “prepared” for your job really seems to boil down to many subjective factors. The factors may include: formal education, how a person interviews, past experience, credentials of the applicant, the state or federal regulations that govern the field and the ability and willingness of the applicant to start at the bottom or learn the specifics of the job for which he is applying.  While a college graduate may feel prepared for the job because of his degree, an employer may think quite the opposite. Students have to get out there and do rather waiting around for an opportunity, say counselors.

A Circular Question
In some fields a college degree is a foot in the door and other employers hire knowing that they will have to train any new employee; college degree or no college degree. There is a value placed on college that may not be at all about the job readiness but more about what a college degree actually stands for. A degree is almost a badge of honor and shows that a student made the choice to spend time and money in an effort to prepare for a career path. Along the way, job skills aside, the student who graduated with that degree without a doubt learned some valuable skills that can contribute to a potential career, whatever that career may be.

The bottom line is that there is no concrete answer about career preparedness. The evaluation of what is considered “prepared for a job” is very subjective. The debate about college readiness and career readiness will probably continue as long as the educational system exists as we know it. The fact is that the educational system continues to change and evolve, which means the expectations and evaluation of preparedness will also change. The financial crisis that faces the nation may very well cause some new trends in how we view formal education in the future and the emphasis that is placed on it.

 College provides students with the opportunity to develop a foundation to groom those leadership qualities that most employers are looking for.  Even if college does not prepare a student for every job, it certainly does provide a foundation for the basic skill building that most hiring managers consider appealing. Students can take as much or as little as they want from their college experience, which can make all the difference in the opportunities that face them after graduation.

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