The future of work won’t be about degrees, it will be about skills


The future of work won’t be about degrees. More and more, it’ll be about skills. And no one school, whether it be Harvard, General Assembly or Udacity, can ever insulate us from the unpredictability of technological progression and disruption.

As a leader of a technology company and former head of engineering, I’ve hired many programmers during my career. And what matters to me is not whether someone has a computer science degree but how well they can think and how well they can code. In fact, among the top 20 fastest-growing skills on Upwork’s latest Skills Index, none require a degree.

Freelancers, the fastest-growing segment of the workforce, realize more than most that education doesn’t stop. It’s a lifelong process, and they are nearly twice as likely to reskill.

More and more, companies are catching on. Last year PwC began a pilot program allowing high school graduates to begin working as accountants and risk-management consultants. And this August, jobs website Glassdoor listed “15 more companies that no longer require a degree,” including tech giants such as Apple, IBM and Google. “Increasingly,” Glassdoor reported, “there are many companies offering well-paying jobs to those with nontraditional education or a high-school diploma.”

Google, for example, used to ask applicants for their college GPAs and transcripts; however, as Laszlo Bock — its head of hiring — has explained, those metrics aren’t valuable predictors of an employee’s performance. As a result, Bock told The New York Times a few years ago that the portion of non-college-educated employees at Google has grown over time.

And second, new nontraditional education options are proliferating. Often laser-focused on the most in-demand skills, would-be college students can now enroll in campus-based, project-focused institutions, like the Holberton School (where I’m a trustee) or online programs such as e-learning sites like Coursera or Udemy.

To be sure, I’m not saying college is a waste of time and money for everyone. But if there’s one takeaway, it’s this: The future of work won’t be about degrees. More and more, it’ll be about skills. And no one school, whether it be Harvard, General Assembly or Udacity, can ever insulate us from the unpredictability of technological progression and disruption.

But one thing can: The fastest-growing segment of the workforce — freelancers — have realized more than most that education doesn’t stop. It’s a lifelong process. Diploma or not, it’s a mindset worth embracing.

— By Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork