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Are Technical Skills More Valuable than a College Degree?

May 30, 2013

Recently I read a couple of provocatively titled articles in major online business periodicals:

Sorry, College Grads, I Probably Won't Hire You

The Jobs Of The Future Don't Require A College Degree

These articles coincide with current news reports of ballooning college debt and high unemployment rates of recent college graduates.  They are both interesting articles and worth reading.  The articles’ common theme is that applicants that can demonstrate technical skills are more highly valued than applicants that possess a college degree.

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The articles echo comments from HR Managers that I work with in the manufacturing and energy industries.  Employers in North America are struggling to fill skilled trades positions.  Employers are expanding their searches from the local level, to the regional or even national level to fill these critical positions.  There simply are not enough applicants that possess the requisite technical skills and knowledge to fulfill the needs of employers.  Several decades of encouraging high school students to pursue college over skilled trades has led to a deficit of talent in the skilled trades industries.


In addition to more aggressive recruiting and wage increases, many employers are taking a more active role in promoting the skilled trades disciplines.  This is a more long-term strategy to “grow” the workforce.  Many of the employers I work with have skilled training programs that are available for their production or non-skilled employees.  Large manufacturers often times will partner with a local community college to develop training programs and promote the benefits of careers in the skilled trades.  I recently worked on a project with a consumer goods manufacturer that assessed their entire hourly workforce on their electrical technical knowledge.  This benchmarking information was used to develop a training program with a local technical school that targeted the requisite skills needed to be a leader in their industry.  Another manufacturing client I work with routinely provides guided facility tours to high school classes and visits high school job fairs to promote skilled trades careers in their organization.


There is no quick fix for the dilemma of the skilled trades talent deficit.  However, one thing that employers can do now is to develop tests that measure the skills necessary for success in their skilled trades positions.  Select International has been developing job-relevant and valid technical assessments for the past twenty years for companies in the manufacturing, energy and construction industries.  Learn more about Select’s approach to technical skills assessment by clicking here.


Brian Dishman Brian Dishman is a Senior Consultant at PSI. He educates safety leaders on the internal factors that impact employee safety. Brian focuses on safety leadership, safety culture development, and the psychology of safety.