The best job I ever had was ten years of roller coaster fun and excitement that on paper I was nowhere near equipped for. I did not have the university degrees that would be considered essential these days.

My prospective employer was unfazed, saying the position required two non-academic attributes. The first requirement was a high degree of integrity and the second strong accounting practices. I supplied verbal referees for character references and completed a test on accounting problems. I passed both and was duly appointed company secretary to a small public company listed on the NZSX and, at that time, on two Australian stock exchanges.

The job entailed as much legal work as it did accounting, but I was assured that on the job training would be provided, and it was. I had direct access to the law partner and a team from a major law firm specialising in corporate and securities law was invited to in-house presentations and very well supported indeed. I absolutely loved learning the legal nuances of stock exchange compliance and reporting and enjoyed the jousting around the board table.

These days that job would be awarded to someone clutching at least two degrees after considerable experience in both fields. My career was built on the old school characteristics of hard work, honesty, trustworthiness and a strong desire to upskill and problem solve; attributes not necessarily representative of a university qualification. Ideally job candidates nowadays have the lot: the appropriate qualifications, experience and character attributes.

Trump assessed the calibre of his federal employees and found them wanting. He has passed legislation to bring back the balance between qualifications and experience. No longer will prospective employees be more highly ranked in the placement process simply by virtue of higher education; they will have to prove they have the experience and aptitude to perform at the highest level. Trump is re-winding the clock and insisting candidates “walk the talk” rather than rely on their qualifications. Experience will no longer be displaced by academic achievement.

Credential inflation shuts out experienced, qualified job candidates who are perfectly capable of filling certain roles simply because they lack the right piece of paper.

“It also deprives employers of a pool of talent. Most perniciously, it convinces young jobseekers that they need a bachelor’s degree or even a graduate degree to succeed in the labor market, forcing them to spend tens of thousands of dollars and years of their lives pursuing unnecessary credentials.

“The administration’s move strikes a blow against credential inflation, the phenomenon of increasing education requirements for job openings even though the skills required to do those jobs have not meaningfully changed.

“A 2017 Harvard Business School report found that postings for dozens of common jobs now typically request bachelor’s degrees, even though a majority of people currently working in those jobs do not have a college education.”

American universities will be seething at Trump’s interference in their push for “credential inflation”. Advertising higher education as the sole route to the best jobs is their bread and butter. Got a bachelor’s degree? Not good enough, now you need a masters to land the best job. Trump is disproving the notion that education alone is the best career investment.

Of course there is a very real need for higher education and this is amply demonstrated by someone very close to home. I have just finished reading Judith Collins’s pithy insight into the dubious world of NZ politics in her very readable book Pull No Punches. With a Bachelor of Laws under her belt, Judith practised law for six years before hitting the glass ceiling that sent her back to university for a Master of Laws degree followed by a Masters in Taxation Studies, as she explains in her book:

I was head hunted again to work in the city. The firm asked if I would study for a Master of Taxation Studies degree as they wanted to beef up their taxation practice. I agreed. Taxation is an incredibly interesting area of law and I enjoyed it hugely.

Later, as a cabinet minister Judith completed a Graduate Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety to better equip herself to serve the Energy and Resources sector. Experience and academia go hand in hand for this extraordinarily talented and hard working woman. Her work load must have been insane in her desire to always be on top of her work commitments.

I applaud Judith Collins for her diligence and Donald Trump for rewinding the clock to ensure that federal employees and candidates recognise the need for a balanced approach to experience and qualifications.

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