A recent article on The Age’s website about the oversupply in STEM graduates concludes with this:
The Grattan Institute also found that the proportion of recent information technology graduates in full-time work is at its lowest level since 1982 despite strong demand for workers in the IT sector.
”It seems the content in IT degrees is not what the industry needs,” Mr Norton said.
People interested in working in IT may be better off getting a more practical vocational qualification, Mr Norton said.
The idea that an IT degree isn’t practical or even largely vocational is kind of weird. 20 years ago when I started an IT degree it was held up as the best way to be secure for the coming technological future.
Maybe the value of a degree is a little more ephemeral? Maybe there’s value in learning how to think about anything rather than learning how to think about one particular thing?
If I had continued down the path of my one particular thing I’d could be in some kind of technical management role in the intersection of UX/UI, machine learning and geographic databases. Yes, that’s the new hotness today but for a really long time it wasn’t anything. I could also easily have ended up where the first firm I worked for wanted me to be, in a technical role doing ABAP trouble-shooting for on-site consultants. (At the time I could think of nothing worse, so I quit. It was a good choice.)
Because I’d had a somewhat liberal-arts approach to my IT degree, and because I’d done well, I was able to get into postgraduate study, starting with a technical approach but very quickly moving to learning and applying aspects of sociology of technology. I could only do that I had the opportunity to learn about other ways to think about the world: economics and psychology and linguistics and philosophy. I wish I’d had the chance to take even more variety but that certainly wasn’t the style at the time.
It’s almost as though education policy is set up with a 20th century view of how specialised education inexorably leads to careers. If that’s not what happens, then it’s easy to say that the policy is a failure. But if following your degree into the profession was the measure of success, I’ve wasted mine.
Looking at what many of my friends did, moving within the bounds of their studies and then, with some experience gained, moving outside, it seems there’s no need to be locked in. It seems like no-one expects to be locked in. It seems like we should let young people choose their own path, reassessing as they go.
I’ve also heard recently that narrow technically focussed skills are less valued in “industry” than what we somewhat disparagingly call “soft skills”. According to a recent ACOLA report the most innovative firms don’t hire for “job readiness” but for cross/multi/trans-disciplinary “bundles of skills” with the expectation that any new hire will require internal training.
In many ways, in this new technological future we live in, it seems there is more value in being educable than in having received an education.