In the weekend journal, Chris Gammell wrote an interesting post about the “good ol’ degreeless days,” in which he writes about trying to hire someone without a degree. I’d like to respond with some of my thoughts on the problem, focusing on the flip side of the coin: getting hired without a degree.
I see a degree, at least for those fresh out of school without an established career, as a proof of competence. Trying to get hired without a degree, naturally means finding another way to convincingly demonstrate that you have the necessary skills. In other words, “show me what you can do.”
Now in some fields of study, I think this is perfectly reasonable. For example, compsci majors can go develop a web sever or an app and graphic design students have a portfolio.
In some fields, however, the resources required to build a portfolio are just unreasonable for an individual to develop. Good luck finding a spare reactor to hone your skills in nuclear physics. It’s not going to happen outside of a university setting.
In my personal experience, I look back and feel like I got a little lucky. My company took a risk hiring me, because I didn’t have much experience in plastic part design or in the medical device industry. As consultants, with a wide variety of work, they cared more about my ability to learn than my work experience (although I should say my work experience did show an ability to learn.) It turns out that I’m rapidly acquiring those skills.
In the end, it seems to me like there should be a better way to establish what you have learned (or your ability to learn) outside of a degree. What would it look like? A testing service? An apprenticeship program? Or are portfolios enough? Or maybe just a shift in how people perceive the value of a degree is all that is required. What do you think?