Colleges Should Flunk If They Can’t Train Students for Jobs

Learning to learn, teamwork and adaptability are the keys to success in the modern economy.

Technology today eats jobs at an increasingly alarming rate. Not just companies, but entire industries, are shifting business models in dramatic ways that destroy jobs as we once knew them. It is a terrifying trend that is renewing debates with a new urgency: can colleges afford to not offer true pathways to a job?

Many still believe that educational methods designed centuries ago are still the best way to be trained to enter the workforce. “go to college, get an education, and everything will be O.K.” is what teenagers have heard from their parents, grand-parents, and teachers for generations. And what used to be true; workers with a college degree earned more than high school diploma owners, is not anymore. In fact, Goldman Sachs argues that some college graduates might actually earn less money than high school graduates. But why is this happening?

First of all, these aging cathedrals of learning are still acting as a gateway between knowledge and students, They were designed when the only way to acquire knowledge was to travel someplace to listen to masters lecture and access the library. Students had to come to class at an exact time, sit in lines and be told what to think by teachers reading books. In the meantime, the Internet developed and students now have access to more knowledge than they need, at their fingerprints, making lecture-based education obsolete.

Secondly, companies are less focused on where candidates studied but rather what can they do. As LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner explains it, “Skills, not degrees. It's not skills at the exclusion of degrees. It's just expanding our perspective to go beyond degrees”.

Finally, you must realize that the rate at which our world is changing is accelerating. One used to be able to make a career out of one skill. Many of our parents spent their entire professional life in a single company, or at the very least in a single profession. But for the most part, these times are no more. The non-stop evolution of technology eliminates jobs within the span of years and disrupts entire industries in the blink of an eye. Workers of today and tomorrow must be able to retrain and retool to take on new opportunities. Modern office work is becoming increasingly automated, companies are creating more interesting and intellectually stimulating jobs. Creativity and critical thinking are among the most important skills. Rote learning, that is at the center of most college educations is the opposite of what students need to acquire those skills.

To live on love alone...not

Many argue that college is here to make you a better human, that “college education is not about job training,” because jobs are changing too quickly to learn the right skills, yet 91% of students enrolling college are doing so to get a job. It’s a disingenuous argument. Many colleges are simply too slow and unable to keep up and adapt fast enough to the job market (and the fact is, even the most adaptable institutions can’t keep up, that’s the point). So they argue there is no point to train students for a job.


It is surely important to have general culture and we absolutely need educated citizens and not only workers. But all the culture in the world won’t help you if the job you were hoping for in college disappears in two years. Knowing about Picasso and Plato is surely a nice thing, but the odds are high that this will not put bread on the table. Higher education should train students on skills that are currently in-demand and must get students ready to be employable right after graduation, the US Education Department started to pay attention to the ratio of the tuition cost versus the average graduate income. But they must also offer training that anticipates growth potential -- so that students can continue to learn throughout their career and stay employable.

Work readiness and learn-by-doing programs allow students to find a job right after graduation. Examples are apprenticeships, internships and project-based programs that are great ways to be trained for a job. They are built in collaboration with employers to make sure that skills learned will be useful within a business environment. Students also learn the job by being coached by professionals, there is literally no skills-mismatch possible.

But schools must also train students on how to self learn,  giving them the skills for a successful career. This means the ability to continue learning and developing throughout their working career. Progressive Education schools are well suited for this. They focus on getting students to learn by doing and to work in groups. Students are not brought knowledge on a silver platter but are encouraged to develop problem solving skills and to learn by using varied learning resources, developing their ability to learn by themselves. This growth potential will allow them to continue to grow as professionals and be flexible to changes.

Finally, schools need to have skin in the game. Many programs allow students to pay tuition only when they find a job. Some programs do even better: students only contribute when they have a job by paying a percentage of their salary, meaning that the success of the school is proportional to students’ success. With this financing model, students will never be in a situation where they cannot pay a debt and these institutions have no choice but to enable students’ success.

The first university was created in Bologna in 1088. Now the world’s greatest library -- the Internet -- sits in our pocket as a smartphone and anyone can know anything in seconds just by asking Google. Think about this. Before taking a loan and spending half a decade of their life listening to an academic who might have never worked in the field, students should consider an education that will get them ready for a job and a career.

About the Author
Author: Sylvain Kalache
Holberton School co-founder Sylvain Kalache Sylvain is a fan of system automation. His former role as senior SRE (Site Reliability Engineer) at LinkedIn, gave him the opportunity to manage infrastructure handling millions of views and document conversions. While at LinkedIn he also co-created an automation framework called Skynet. Before that, Sylvain was part of the small Slideshare startup team, as a DevOps and key player that contributed to the LinkedIn acquisition in 2012. During his free time, Sylvain helps multiple startups as their Technical Advisor and participates frequently in hackathons. Additionally he co-founded while42, a Tech Engineer Network with 3,000+ members in more than 50 cities across the world. Sylvain is a globetrotter, having lived in 13 cities in China, Russia, France, and the United States.

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