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  • Writer's pictureKieran Cornwall

Why Formal Credentials Aren't the Only Measure of Success in the Modern Workplace

As someone who doesn't have a degree and has noticed the prevalence of "degree required" in job ads, I know firsthand how modern companies are overly reliant on formal credentials as proof of intelligence and conformity to modern business working.


After talking about this topic for a long time, I recently found the book that puts things into plain context and is a must-read: "The Case Against Education" by Bryan Caplan, which was written in 2018. Caplan argues that the education system perpetuates this over-reliance on formal credentials, contributing to inefficiencies and social inequality. This reliance on formal credentials often results in highly qualified and motivated candidates being overlooked for positions due to not having the right piece of paper. While credentials may be a convenient way for employers to identify potential hires, they do not necessarily reflect the skills and abilities that are needed to succeed in the modern workplace.

I’m barely going to scratch the surface of the book but I’ll cover what I believe to be the key points and add some points about what companies can be doing and focusing on.

The education system's emphasis on formal credentials drives organisations' hiring behaviours.

The over-reliance on formal credentials in the modern workplace is a major issue that perpetuates inefficiencies and social inequality. This problem is rooted in the education system, which emphasizes academic credentials as a measure of intelligence and ability, rather than practical skills and experience. As a result, individuals without formal degrees are often overlooked, despite possessing valuable skills and experience that could benefit their employers. Furthermore, the current education system is not only inefficient and costly but also increases social inequality by limiting access to higher education for certain socioeconomic groups. To address these challenges, it's essential to prioritise practical skills and abilities over formal credentials and invest in ongoing training and development for employees.

The current education system's emphasis on academic credentials also contributes to social inequality by limiting access to higher education for certain socioeconomic groups. Moreover, both the education system and companies are failing to support and value practical skills, which are crucial for success in the modern workplace. Companies often prioritize academic credentials over practical skills and experience, leading to a mismatch between what employers are looking for and what job applicants have to offer. This over-reliance on formal credentials can exclude talented individuals without degrees, perpetuating inefficiencies and limiting diversity in the workplace. To address these challenges, companies need to prioritize practical skills and invest in ongoing training and development for employees, regardless of their formal education.

So, what can we do to improve the situation?

One approach is to focus on vocational training within an ongoing learning environment. Vocational training, which focuses on practical skills and knowledge, whatever skill set that may be, is more effective at preparing individuals for the workforce than traditional academic education. This approach emphasizes the importance of ongoing learning and development within organisations to ensure that employees are equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in their roles.

Organisations can take several steps to implement ongoing learning and development programs. They can invest in on-the-job training, mentorship programs, and formal training and development programs. These programs should be designed to support the needs of employees and the organisation as a whole, focusing on practical skills and knowledge that will enable employees to succeed in their roles.

Encouraging mentorship and coaching programs can also be a highly effective way to help employees develop practical skills and knowledge. These programs can be used to build relationships between more experienced employees and those who are just starting out in their careers. This can help to create a culture of continuous learning and improvement within the organisation, which can lead to better outcomes for both employees and the organisation.

Organisations should also support employee-driven learning and development initiatives, such as offering tuition reimbursement or time off for education and training. This can help employees to take control of their own learning and development, which can lead to improved job satisfaction and higher levels of engagement.


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