It’s crucial to consider the immense potential and talent that lies beyond the boundaries of traditional education
The Paper Ceiling. An invisible barrier that comes for workers without a bachelor’s degree. It comes with a next-to-non-existent professional network, no alumni network, being screened out of entry-level positions, stereotypes, and misconceptions.
There you are, a hiring manager, amidst the daunting task of sifting through a vast sea of applications for your open position. You’ve narrowed it down to a handful of candidates who all appear promising and capable of meeting your organization’s needs. But then, among them, you stumble upon an intriguing individual who lacks a traditional degree or higher education. Suddenly, the decision becomes both simpler and more complex simultaneously.
It can be argued that once you’re at a certain point in your career, your work will speak for itself. So, looking to bring on a lead, or a project manager, one’s education route is far less consequential. While at the entry-level, I could see a traditional education is weighted far more heavily. Why? There are numerous articles and topics that herald we don’t need to adhere to traditional education and traditional education requirements. The idea is out there and seems to be gaining momentum.
So why do most entry-level positions still post the need for a degree as a requirement?
Let’s start with familiarity. One can assume that with a degree from a university, you’re getting a person of a certain level of understanding or competency. And why wouldn’t you? They’ve been stamped as certified, government seal of approval, almost as if they’re guaranteed. But are they?
I’ve been told that with a degree comes a sort of “stick-to-it-ness” that they’re willing to stick out anywhere from three to six years to accomplish a thing, but how does that compare to the alternative? If we look at someone who engages in study on their own time, doesn’t that also show that there is a certain level of “stick-with-it-ness”? Doesn’t it also show they’re willing to apply critical thinking, not just in theory, to their life trajectory and make a cost-benefit analysis that has real-world consequences?
I understand that maybe the university student made the same choice, but maybe they were just given a path and didn’t consider anything outside of it. A sort of tunnel vision that takes them from school to intern to employee to manager to retirement. The white collar dream of a latte every morning, an air-conditioned office, khakis, and meetings. So they stick with what’s working and consider few alternatives. At least, that’s how it appears from the outside. I’m sure that’s not how it is with everyone with a gold foil-stamped piece of paper. But you would be lying to yourself if you said you hadn’t worked with someone like I described.
Does that make them a better employee? It doesn’t necessarily fit the recruiting buzzwords. Someone who “thinks outside the box,” has “critical thinking skills,” is a “nimble learner,” or “cultivates innovation.” I’d argue that the person who looks at their life and starts attempting to adjust their own trajectory and has started engaging in an alternative education model far more fits what is on 90% of the hiring posts.
Someone who has chosen to shift their life around in an attempt to be more tomorrow than what they are today is definitely applying some critical thinking. And a non-traditional education is “outside-the-box” thinking in application instead of theoretical.
Non-traditional learners demonstrate a unique brand of ‘stick-to-it-ness.’ They willingly invest their time in self-study, showcasing a determination to achieve their goals. Their choice to engage in alternative education models reveals critical thinking skills and the ability to analyze the real-world impact of their decisions. These individuals embrace a mindset of continuous improvement and actively seek to adjust their trajectory, making them ideal candidates for positions that require nimble learners and innovative thinkers.
Let’s move on even further to consider the diversity of perspective. And I’m sorry for the crowd that hasn’t touched a job where you’re not made to wear a uniform or a name tag ever since you got your internship and have moved up in the world, but your diverse workplace isn’t.
Sure, you may check all the boxes, and HR is happy, but the vast majority of the tech world are university educated to a degree, conglomerate around large urban centers, and tend to work with people similar to themselves.
I’ve worked many jobs while trying to move up into the tech world — retail, restaurants, call centers, and construction. And I did gain some practical knowledge, but the perspective I gained by working with people with vastly different upbringings helped me understand exactly what I had taken for granted.
One of my managers had this great attitude — unflappable, positive, annoyingly so. And one day, I asked how he was able to maintain that sort of attitude despite the situation. He told me that when he was growing up, his parents were melon farmers in the jungle. He had to grow up looking out for panthers… and he won, hands down, because most of us don’t have anything that beats “watching out for large cats on the job.” Seriously, take your worst day at work against the possibility of fighting a panther. I would rather be swamped with three days of work I need to get done in 12 hours than the prospect of going toe to toe with a jungle cat.
If you look at people that didn’t come up through universities and are using whatever means necessary to get ahead, I guarantee you, through their careers, they’ve worked with people that don’t have the same background they do, don’t have the same education credentials they do, don’t share the same values they do, and still gotten the job done.
The perspective gained by individuals who have made the leap from non-skilled jobs to skilled labor is invaluable. They bring a wealth of practical knowledge and a deep appreciation for the opportunities they have created for themselves. This unique background fosters a fresh perspective and a hunger to excel, which can greatly benefit any organization seeking employees who can think outside the box and cultivate innovation.
The concept of the ‘paper ceiling’ in the professional world raises important questions about the value of traditional education versus non-traditional paths. While degrees may still hold weight in certain entry-level positions due to familiarity and perceived guarantees, the landscape is changing. Non-traditional learners bring a unique set of qualities to the table: practical skills, adaptability, critical thinking, and new perspectives. They have made the choice to reshape their lives, demonstrating a true “stick-to-it-ness” and an ability to thrive outside the confines of a prescribed path (also, they come with really interesting stories. Seriously, get them to talk a bit about their experiences).
I believe it’s crucial to reevaluate the hiring criteria and recognize the immense potential and talent that lies beyond the boundaries of traditional education. By embracing diversity in education and experience, we can unlock new realms of innovation and excellence in our organizations.