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Success in the Tech Economy

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How can it be possible that college graduation rates and unfilled job openings are both at record-breaking highs? [1] That seems counter intuitive, but it’s true: According to recent surveys, more than 33 percent of employers have unfilled job openings. They simply can’t find applicants with the necessary skills. These are good-paying jobs, too. In fact, Harvard Business School found that 27 percent of trained skilled professionals earn more than the average bachelor’s degree recipient. This misalignment is known as the skills gap. And there is growing evidence that many job candidates are still not receiving the hands-on training needed to fill this gap. [2]

Our educational system is very well-intentioned, but incredibly misaligned. The pendulum has swung too far toward college preparation and away from technical skill attainment. We even encourage a college-going-culture as early as elementary school with university pennants decorating 2nd grade classrooms; and we spend an exorbitant amount of time in high school on application essays and reviewing university rankings. Education is core to our economy, but in order to guide our educational systems and maximize future income we must understand the misalignment between education and our workforce. At some point in recent history we have transitioned from asking the more important question of, “What skills do you need to be employable?” to now simply asking, “Where are you going to college?” When in reality, not every degree is direct preparation for employment.

In 1960, when taking into account all jobs in the American economy, 20% required a 4-year degree or higher. 20% were technical jobs requiring skilled training, and 60% were classified as unskilled. But what’s the right percentage to meet the labor market demand for tomorrow? Harvard University predicts that only 33% of all jobs will require a 4-year degree or more, while the overwhelming majority will be middle-skilled jobs requiring technical skills and training at the credential or Associates Degree level.

The true ratio of jobs in our economy is 1:2:7. For every occupation that requires a master’s degree or more, two professional jobs require a university degree, and there are over half a dozen jobs requiring a 1-year certificate or 2-year degree; and each of these technicians are in very high-skilled areas that are in great demand. As an example, information security analysts are predicted to be the fastest growing job category, with 37% growth. But it’s not just the NUMBER of tech jobs - the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that median salaries of IT occupations are nearly $40K higher than non-IT occupations. The 1:2:7 ratio is fundamental to all industries (save two). It was the same in 1950, the same in 1990, and will be the same in 2030. This is especially true in Information Technology where skilled employee demand is increasing.

Fortunately, today’s students no longer need to decide between higher education or career preparation; it’s possible - and increasingly necessary - to achieve both. Educators have the power to offer an education that is in-demand by today’s employers all while increasing the probability that students will secure fulfilling careers with high-paying salaries.

The answer: Technology certifications.

Certifications go beyond simply earning a grade; they validate skills and confirm knowledge gains against a universally accepted set of industry standards. In one study, 92% of employers report that IT certifications provide a baseline set of knowledge, help to ensure a job applicant’s credibility, and result in higher starting salaries compared to non-certified candidates giving them an added advantage towards employment.[3]

HR professionals are very familiar with industry certifications and they look for them. They have learned that certified employees are more confident, more knowledgeable, reach job proficiency more quickly, are more reliable, perform at a higher level, are retained longer, and have a higher likelihood of being promoted.[4] Perfectly aligned with employer needs, certifications help prove students have the knowledge and skills needed to get the job done.

The time has come to redefine the goal for our students. Is the goal simply graduation or degree attainment? Or is the ultimate goal a relevant education to secure a well-paying career where they are both fulfilled and more competitive in today’s fierce job market. Earning industry-recognized technology certifications that match today’s job requirements are quickly replacing the degree as the ticket to a self-sufficient future.

How can you, as an educator, help? Embed industry certifications in your classes, and encourage your students to demonstrate skill mastery by earning credentials as part of their coursework. This is how you can help all students invest in their education and best prepare them for success in today’s tech economy.

[2]; and Bridgeland J.M., DiIulio J.J., Morison K.B. (2006). The silent epidemic: Perspectives on high school dropouts. Washington, DC: Civic Enterprises

[3] CompTIA HR Perception of IT Training and Certification Study: 2015

[4] IDC white paper: IT Support and Security Performance: The Impact of CompTIA Certification on Organizational Performance

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