Is there a Future for Youths without Degrees?

Jordan Lok
August 19, 2021

What if I told you that the biggest illusion isn’t the ‘Vanishing Elephant’ by the great Henry Houdini? But an ideology we’ve all been infected with for decades. What used to be a guarantee of stability for the bright and eager, a university degree has seemed to become an illusion of safety nowadays.

When modernity has upped the ante of ever-increasing education fees, study loan debts, and job scarcity, but spawned a plethora of opportunities for digital entrepreneurship, self-employment, and freelancing positions, there’s no wonder that youths are left to ponder: do degrees really matter anymore?

Are they worthwhile? Sure. Do they matter? Maybe not

A once-in-a-lifetime experience, the celebrated university life has been the dream stage many youths look forward to growing up. You can find education at any time, anywhere but you only experience these four years in university once. Such experiences include meeting people who are interested in the same career paths as you, the intellectual stimulation you get over a diverse range of modules you study in a week, and of course, the organic camaraderie and valuable house parties are the coming of age experiences that shape who you become!

Ergo, your bachelor’s degree is a unique and memorable opportunity for character. But we mustn’t forget that degrees essentially prove you’re able to learn, not grant you a sure-fire way of getting a job. High school graduates advance into university for a major reason, to be career-ready. University graduates then secure offers for high-paying careers by virtue of earning those degrees.

Woefully, that system is becoming a relic of the past.In recent years, almost 60% of 51,000 annual graduates remain unemployed a year after graduation, according to the Ministry of Education Malaysia’s Graduate Tracer Study in 2018.

Owning a degree is increasingly losing its value for the future of work as more people graduate from university, more so when a report by Bank Negara Malaysia stated that annually, between the years 2010 and 2017, a total of 173,457 diploma and degree graduates entered the workforce while only 98,514 high-skilled jobs were established over that time.

It’s barmy, that the average student takes around five years to complete their bachelor’s degree full time and are left with debt and void. Those who found success typically work outside their majors, in jobs that didn’t require their original degrees in the first place.

The future of work won’t be about degrees, it’s about skill

While all of us have been entrenched at home, the pandemic shoved us into the future with an emergence of the new economy - and that future is digital. The world is moving at an accelerated pace with cutting edge technology as the driving force of economic growth and productivity.

Enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which is believed to change the way we work to an extraordinary degree, and presently changing employment trends and traditional business models. Automation and artificial intelligence are all the jazz in 4IR as the fundamental change agents that will automate certain jobs in the workforce.

The future of work doesn’t revolve around degrees. The days of attending college or university to graduate with a degree as lifelong stamps of professional competency are no more. A standardized degree certification won’t be enough to insulate us from the unforeseeable advances of technological progression and disruption.

Workers of the future will inevitably operate in activities that machines are less capable of. For example, public relations, critical and creative thinking, emotional intelligence, and good ol’ communications. In situational contrast, workers will spend less time on more predictable, repetitive labour such as collecting and processing data, and other areas where machines exceed human performance.

Employment and hiring requirements are also destined to shift, hiring decisions will start to rely more on experience and personality - opening doors to project-based needs and short-term contracts that are the bread and butter of the gig economy. The most sought after qualities in graduates will be social and emotional skills, like empathy and the quality of being open-minded, with more advanced cognitive abilities such as logical deduction and creativity. The 21st Century workforce will thrive on the intellectual capital of its workers.

According to the World Economic Forum report, The Future of Jobs, here are 10 essential 21st Century Skills to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution:

  1. Creativity
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Complex Problem Solving
  4. Cognitive Flexibility
  5. Empathy
  6. Digital Literacy
  7. Judgement & Decision-making
  8. Leadership
  9. Visualization
  10. Written Expression

“Those who often reskill and adapt quickly will be more prepared to endure the new economy.”

So what does that mean to you, are machines taking over?

Not in the dramatic sense of artificial superintelligence taking over humanity, but they are seeping into our economy. Fret not my dear reader, if anything our future of work isn’t bleak, especially for entrepreneurs -  who are uniquely fit to face this post-pandemic era of disruption and test the “metal” of machines. For many entrepreneurs, education doesn’t stop. It turns out that those who often reskill and adapt quickly will be more prepared to endure the new economy. But how do you build a career in the 21st Century, you may ask?

There are countless accessible courses online that can help you with just an easy search. The Me.reka Digital Entrepreneur is an academy that provides you, our future workforce, the ability to find your place in the 21st Century. The programme is also a community of entrepreneurs, where you’ll learn to leverage your talents to find self-employment and navigate the vast opportunities of the gig economy.

Moral of the story: Self-motivation, resilience, and the willingness to be a lifelong learner are the keys to surviving the emerging economy. In order to survive the 21st Century, graduates need to make themselves more marketable and reskill themselves with soft skills and interdisciplinary know-how’s, not just confined to their area of study.

Jordan Lok

An INFJ personality type and a savant of everything peculiar, Jordan often finds themself dabbling in the likes of self-advocating, creative writing and music.