Moore’s Law, Alternate Degree Programs, and a More Diverse Workforce

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Mar 5, 2019

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore noticed that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention. Fifty years later, Moore’s Law had solidified itself as the golden rule for the electronics industry, contending that overall processing power for computers would double every two years.

In other words, computing has dramatically increased in power, and decreased in relative cost, at an exponential pace. This means skills are expiring more quickly than ever before.

Between 1970 and 2000, the half life of a skill held strong at 30 years. Return on educational investment was high. Whether you completed a two-year or four-year or technical degree, the skills you paid to learn would last nearly your entire career (or at the very least serve as a foundation to build upon).

One way to digest the ever-accelerating rate of technology is to look at adoption. It took 46 years for electricity to reach critical mass (defined here as one-quarter of the U.S. population), 35 years for the telephone, 31 for the radio, and 26 for the television. The PC, in contrast, took only 16 years, the mobile phone 13, and the web only seven!

As for as smartphones, according to statistics compiled by A.C. Nielsen, they grew their penetration from 5 to 40 percent in a span of only four years. This diffusion rose despite the 2008 recession caused by the U.S. financial crisis.

And herein lies the problem — our traditional educational structures are not able to keep pace with the rapid advancement of technology. The skills required to succeed in the real world are evolving, and institutions are failing to prepare their students.

The Student Debt Crisis

In this new world, tuition costs are subject to greater scrutiny. Arguably so. Why pay for a four-year degree, and a master’s, and possibly more education, if what you learn will be outdated in five years? Add a $1.53 trillion student debt bill to the mix (yes, that’s trillion), and the need for change couldn’t be more compelling.

Enter the silver lining. Because: 1) costs of higher ed have reached unsustainable heights, and 2) traditional curriculums are not keeping pace with critical skills demand, non-traditional channels of education are forming.

MOOC’s (massive open online courses), coding boot camps, certificate programs, and other technology-enabled forms of delivery are supplementing or even replacing the traditional four-year degree. Project-based schools, many offered by technology experts, are also cropping up. Examples include Holberton in San Francisco, founded by Sylvain Kalache and Julien Barbier; Wildflower School in Boston, founded by former Google exec Sep Kamvar; and Portfolio in New York, founded by Babur Habib and Doug Schachtel.

Recently the LinkedIn daily rundown reported that “the tightening labor market has converged with the student-debt crisis to create more free community-college programs in the U.S.” Most aim to fill an estimated 7 million job openings, according to The Wall Street Journal, and support two-year, government-funded degrees.

Employers are taking notice of the shifts. In 2018, job-search site Glassdoor compiled a list of top employers who are expanding their talent options by no longer requiring applicants to have a college degree. Companies like Google, Apple, and IBM are all in this group. Instead of looking exclusively at candidates who went to college, companies are looking at candidates who have hands-on experience via a coding boot camp or an industry-related vocational class.

Compete for Future Workforce Talent

How can you keep up with these trends? Suggestions:

  • Revisit educational requirements. Does that supervisory role really require a four-year degree, or would equivalent experience or on-the-job training suffice?
  • Work “non-traditional degree programs” into your pipeline/hiring strategy. Graduates of coding boot camps, certificate programs, vocational classes, and project-based schools may fit the bill for open roles.
  • Ramp up recruiting at community colleges. The student debt crisis has caused increasing numbers of students to pursue lower-cost educational channels. Don’t miss out on your shot to compete.
  • Partner with learning & development teams on mid-to-long term talent strategy. What does your workforce look like in 5-10 years? How can you foster an environment of continuous learning and mobility?
  • Don’t forget about high school. As companies continue to compete for talent, many are aggressively targeting high school and even junior high-level students for careers in their industry. Ensure you have event-based technology in place to track these folks and keep them engaged over time (CRMs, for example).

As alternate education paths continue to proliferate,expect employers to alter educational requirements to get the talent they need. Indeed, economists anticipate opportunities for non-college-degreers to grow. This will work to reverse the degree inflation trend of the past 10 years, in which employers raised minimum requirements due to an overwhelming post-crash labor supply. (In 2015, for example, 67 percent of production supervisor job postings asked for a college degree, while only 16 percent of people employed in that role had one — a “degree gap” of 51 percent.”)

This reduction in degree requirements combined with democratization of learning should open up doors to economically underprivileged populations who would normally struggle to obtain a four-year degree from a reputable institution. If organizations are willing to expand upon their typical feeder-system approach to recruiting, we can expect the talent pool to widen significantly, increasing new-hire diversity, and upward mobility across generations.

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