Best Employers and Top Universities, Part 2

Do you need a university degree?

Here’s what may save you a lot of money and a few precious years of your life:
To build a successful career in the Knowledge Economy, you most likely don’t need a degree.

Only 300 out of 2900 large organizations made the final list of Canada’s Best Employers – and twenty-three of the finalists are universities. Since there are less than 100 universities in Canada altogether, their representation in the Best Employers List is excitingly high!

Nearly a quarter of Canadian universities are on the Forbes Best Employers List.

But let me throw a little monkey wrench into this.

(This is a two-part article. In the first part, the reality behind the Best Employers list was reviewed. In this 2nd part, we look at the value of postsecondary education in its current state. You may prefer to watch a video version of this article.)

A little monkey wrench

For some reason, highly-ranked universities are well below the lesser-known schools that pop up high on this list.

One explanation of this apparent inconsistency is the difference between “job satisfaction” and “employee engagement.” “Satisfied” employees tend to leave positive reviews more often than their “engaged” counterparts, while the latter tend to demonstrate higher operational, academic, and scientific results – in one word, “excellence” – that propel universities up the academic charts.

Gallup’s Employee Engagement Survey (a.k.a. Q12) pinpointed this difference clearly: Engagement drives satisfaction but not the other way around. Positive as they may sound, employees that are satisfied with their jobs but not engaged are prone to leaving their job as soon as they find a “more satisfying” offer. In contrast, engaged employees tend to stay with the employer and contribute more to the organization because they care about the value they bring to society, and not only about salary and perks.

Employees of universities and other public organizations are high on satisfaction but low on engagement, and that combination simply cannot be efficient. To stay afloat today, universities focus on quantity (number of admissions and graduations) and not on the quality of education and research (number of citations, patents, and the direct commercial result of research). Churning out more “trained professionals” may sound like a solid strategy for a country that stakes its place in the knowledge economy – if not for one unexpected caveat.

Canada has a population of 38 million, of which 21.5 million are between the ages of 25 and 64. Of these working-age Canadians, 7.2 million have a bachelor’s degree or higher. That is 33.5 percent of the working-age population.

Now, according to research, the average IQ of a college graduate must be around 115 (one SD above the mean). Accordingly, at least 33.5 percent of Canadians must have an IQ of 115 or higher – or they would not have made it to graduation. However, in a normal distribution, only about 16 percent of the population statistically have an IQ of 115 or higher. Apparently, we have at least twice as many brainy people in Canada than is statistically probable!

We have at least twice as many brainy people in Canada than is statistically probable!

This is extremely flattering, no doubt, but not plausible. I have witnessed the output of our educational institutions as a student, as a parent, and as a hired professional with some education. My education, however, helped me calculate (going from the other end) that if 33.5 percent of the population have a university degree, then the actual IQ level that enables one to graduate is only 110.

With a heavy heart I must confirm that if someone tells you that your BA actually means “Bullshit Added”, they are most likely right. Historically, people with an IQ of 110 attained a high school diploma, with perhaps some form of post-secondary education, like a trade school.

Not surprising that today many employers make a university degree mandatory, even for jobs that did not previously require such qualifications. Of course: today this degree has replaced what we used to know as a vocational diploma.

Today the university degree has replaced what we used to know as a vocational diploma.

This devaluation of university education cannot continue forever. It has already caused a “market recession” and will probably end in a “market crash” of the higher education system in the coming years.

I hope this harsh truth will serve as a life-changing revelation for students and universities alike, helping them to embrace a new strategy for obtaining and delivering higher education.

Bottom line 1 – for students:

  • You should realize that you do not have to become part of the degree rat race. To succeed in the Knowledge Economy, you need knowledge, of course. But you need very specialized knowledge of high quality. This is not what a traditional university can deliver today.
  • To get the right knowledge, you should choose a career direction before you get into the program, no matter how bright the future promised to you by the school. By definition, most – if not all – university programs are outdated by the time they become available to students.

Most university programs are outdated by the time they are available to students.

  • If you are clear about your career direction, you may find an unlimited number of decent programs available online and open to you as soon as you are ready, whenever you are ready, without admission exams – try Coursera, edX, Udemy, Khan Academy, etc. Moreover, they are often free if you do not need an official certificate or degree – and that’s exactly your case: unless you plan to work for another useless organization, nobody needs to see your BA.

Bottom line 2 – for “universities”:

  • Bite the bullet and downgrade your status to a professional school, asap. Delivering less “advanced” but more honest degrees certifying genuine knowledge – that’s what is valued today. You will do even better if you predict what knowledge will be in demand tomorrow.
  • To survive and succeed as a meaningful organization, you need to get rid of all the dead wood. The layoffs started in high-tech are not limited to their field; they will spill over to all advanced professions, freeing up a lot of people to work in service industries.
  • Universities could increase the value of their degrees by teaching their students “soft” skills that will become more valuable because the AI and other advanced technologies are not able to replace humans there yet.
  • If shifting toward a “soft” curriculum is problematic, becoming a well-known trade school is more rewarding than stagnating as a no-name “university.” This will not only improve your brand but also increase employee engagement.
  • Or, if you are ready for a tectonic change and you have enough passionate people to drive it, you may consider switching to peer learning methodology, by taking the lead of new-generation organizations like CoachingOurselves and IMPM.

Students will benefit the most from this cathartic transformation. As a minimum, this advice will save them enough for a down payment on their first house, not to mention years of priceless life that they would otherwise waste. Finding one’s path to success and happiness isn’t easy, but choosing a purpose over credentials can be a good first step.

Finding one’s path to success and happiness isn’t easy, but choosing a purpose over credentials can be a good first step.

I don’t have many illusions about “universities” though. Chances are most of their “job-satisfied” people will keep holding on to their jobs, rearranging deck chairs on their Titanics, and eventually drown. In addition, the lowest-ranked schools prove to be the most resilient – making their way to the very top of Canadian Best Employers, so why bother?

But the ones that change will do much better. The added value that the reborn schools will bring to society will keep their staff more engaged than ever before.

In Part 3, you will learn why measuring employee engagement is important and how to set up a process for your team at no cost to the company.