What Graduates Need to Know

BY X.N Iraki

One CEO recently told me of howhe got three jobs in one day aftergraduation in 1970s! In 1980s firms used to recruit in high school with some studentschoosing jobs over studies. Today the story is different; graduates are finding it hard to find jobs, preferring to pursue further studies to enhance their marketability. In addition to pursuing degrees, the younger generation is pursuing parallel qualifications from ACCA to CPA and CFA. Education has become one of the most expensive items in any parents shopping list.

What is making education more expensive is inflation. Under monetary inflation, you need more money to buy goods and services. Under education inflation, you need more qualifications to get the same jobs that people with lower qualifications used to get. While we cannot discount that fees have gone up, the bulk of the costs are from extra qualifications. Parents and students have to pay more to get these qualifications, which they find are only necessary to get one a job not necessarily to make you more effective or efficient.

How did we find ourselves in this rut and how we can we extricate ourselves out? The first cause of this education inflation is slow economic growth. Our economy has not grown fast enough to absorb the rising population of job seekers. Any adult will tell it is easier to create a job seeker than to create a job.

It is paradoxical that we want the government to give our children jobs, but do not want the same government to dictate to us the number of children we should have. With such a huge supply of job seekers, the market has to look for ways to "ration" out the few jobs. One easy way is to demand higher qualifications. The employers have gone another step; they have realized that potential employees will do anything to get the qualifications. They are demanding that potential employees sit for aptitude tests which try to capture our innate abilities, unlike exams that often test our ability to cram. It is for this reason that I see the future of psychometricians as very bright.

The other cause is professional associations that have put barriers to entry to ensure their
professions are not saturated and by extension lower their value and prestige. A good example is accountancy, which demands all practitioners to be registered and licensed,
despite that fact that software is talking over most of their work. The association will quickly argue they want to protect their profession from quacks.

The other cause is that we surprisingly do not know why we go to school. To most people we spend years in school to "avoid work", so that we can do less but get paid more. We seem to believe that getting more papers will ensure that we can get paid more for doing less. Why else is Dr such a popular prefix in Kenya for some without even an undergraduate degree. In other countries, the focus is not on papers, but on what one can do. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Njenga Karume are school drop outs; we can see what they have done. What next?

First, we must grow our economy to absorb the current job seekers. One way is to focus on efficiency and productivity so that we can save on costs. The saved money can be used expand our productive capacity and create jobs. We seem to love inefficiency because it "creates" more jobs, an economic mirage. One way out of the rut is to destroy jobs so that we can create more.

We must become more pragmatic, focusing more on what one can do with his qualifications, not
qualifications themselves. I fear for the younger generation, because some of our institutions have exposed them to all sorts of courses, some which we could boldly label as "mickey mouse." Our youngsters’ should think seriously of what they will do with their qualifications. For example, electricians and plumbers are hard to get today, but how many students would forgo a degree in Archaeology for a diploma in any of these areas?

Finally, students must take time to explore the trends in the market. Too many students rely on conventional wisdom on what is marketable. Surprisingly, we move like herds, with droves of students pursuing some professions in large numbers. Yet the secret behind jobs is to be unique and different from others.

This article appeared first in the Standard
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