It’s Not the Education System That’s Broke

[MISMATCHstats]You hear this refrain frequently – that American companies can’t find qualified or educated workers. With the recent exposure that many companies automatically exclude the unemployed as potential employees – it’s becomming incresingly obvious that it is not the education system that is the problem…

It’s the companies themselves.

Some years ago many companies started using automated search engines which sorted resumes looking for keywords. The growth of the Internet has also meant the growth of potential resumes which a company can choose from. Keyword searches are based on the faulty idea that someone who is qualified for a potential position will include those words in the resume. So for instance, a candidate with an ITIL, Six Sigma, or PMI certification would include those terms in the resume. Since real work skills, accomplishments, and experience don’t translate to such simpleminded analysis – the impact of this was to devalue the experience of anyone who could actually do the job, and raise the value of folks who became certification whores.

Leading to the surreal environment where the self proclaimed “father of the Internet” couldn’t get hired for a technical job in the industry he created – or a guy who had actually designed and built bridges over rivers for 25 years…

Is suddenly “unqualified” for a job to design and build bridges, because he hadn’t built a bridge over a creek.

Enabled by the power of the computer, Human Resources folks were able to get very precise in developing requirements for potential hires. This meant developing skills criteria where no one, who wasn’t already doing the job for the hiring company (and usually even the person in the job couldn’t qualify for), could ever fit. Years ago, I took a job with a company which had developed a proprietary technology which was only utilized at that time in 3 other places in the world, including DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – which is a small group of really smart guys working on super secret technology projects), and MIT being two of the three other places. My advantage? I had at least read about it in technical publications. Recognizing that the pool of folks who knew anything about the technology was exceedingly small – the company had an aggressive internal education program to bring employees up to speed.

Today, companies don’t want to invest in training employees – believing that the alphabet soup of outside certification agencies is somehow going to produce qualified employees. It doesn’t, what it produces is a lot of employees with the common toolkits to work – which is a large distance from having the real functional skills.

Being in the tech industry means getting approached by headhunters several times a week, sometimes on resumes that are 10 years or more old. My last name is the same as a company which produces a very sophisticated software system. For years I’d get calls from breathless headhunters looking for programmers familiar with the system. Never occurred to these folks that if I was the guy who had created the system, and CEO of the company bearing my last name…

WTF would I be looking for a junior or mid-level programming job? Continue reading

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