Taking Advantage of Shifting Perceptions About Post-Secondary Education

Google’s online career certificate offerings don’t directly affect the plumbing industry, but what plumbers should be mindful about is what they say about changing attitudes regarding the kind of education required to have a successful career

Taking Advantage of Shifting Perceptions About Post-Secondary Education

Anja Smith

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Google is offering career certificates online, which could be a good thing for plumbers. 

The programs are completely online, take as little as 130 hours to complete, and cost $49 per month. The company claims, “In our own hiring, we will now treat these new career certificates as the equivalent of a four-year degree for related roles.”

This is excellent news for the plumbing industry, the trades, and other skilled worker categories. Why? It shows a shift away from college degrees as a norm.

Google isn’t alone. A growing list of impressive companies are nixing their college degree requirements for technical roles. Apple, IBM, Intel, Hilton, Starbucks, Publix, Penguin Random House, Costco Wholesale, Whole Foods, Nordstrom, Home Depot, Bank of America, Chipotle, Lowe’s, and Tesla have all joined Google in re-thinking the college degree requirement. 

Plumbing still isn’t as glamorous as electric cars, but my point isn’t about competing for the same talent. It’s about redefining a successful future.

According to an article by American Public Media, there has been a steady rise in demand for degrees since the 1970s when only 28% of jobs required one. Up to that point in time, a high school graduate could expect to find a career with no post-secondary study.

Fast forward to 2018, when data showed that 63% of American job postings required a college degree. The increase in demand for college-educated graduates caused a tremendous shift in how schools prepared students to become productive members of society.

If you showed “potential,” then college was the best path forward. School counselors and parents guided kids with this mentality for years. We rated the effectiveness of a school district on how many of their graduates when on to college.

The drive for college education had a profoundly negative impact on the trades. Rather than taking a thoughtful approach to what was best for graduates and their families, college became a cultural assumption. The effect is that no one is happy. Hiring managers can’t find the right talent, and the nation is facing a full-blown student debt crisis. 

While demand in the skilled trades skyrocketed, kids mortgaged their futures on the promise of opportunities that never appeared. Society learned that the fairy-tale proxy for adulthood that is a college campus doesn’t necessarily lend itself to learning employable skills.

Anyone who has supervised a first-time employee knows the pain of teaching soft skills and instilling work ethic. When worker readiness training doesn’t start until late in life, the results are messy. It’s been clear for many years now, college-for-all is a dumb idea. Everyone blames generational bias. Finger pointing makes for a fun debate with your uncle at Thanksgiving, but it isn’t useful. We are ripe for a solution to this broken system.

Google may just have the clout to do it.

What Google is doing solves their unique talent supply and demand problem. The certificates being offered include entry-level technical roles such as Google IT Support and IT Automation with Python. These career certificates provide job seekers with a low-stakes, skills-based path to follow. While Google doesn’t guarantee a job upon completion, it is hiring from within this talent pool. Even if a job doesn’t work out, the job seekers still learn something about the industry, the positions within it, and skills they can take with them.

Career certificates, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training have been around for a long time. Google isn’t creating a new concept, but it is revitalizing an idea that lost popularity half a century ago. Google is de-stigmatizing career-based training. It's making it OK to skip college. That is something we can use.

Once there is a clear path to success outside of the college track, the narrative will change. Not everyone wants to be a desk jockey for Google. Our people prefer working outside, using their hands and their heads, working socially, and seeing the satisfaction of a completed project. But plumbers can offer the same path to success Google is offering, just without the cubicle.

The tide is coming; we have to be ready to ride the wave. Access to organized apprenticeship or training programs and a clear career path are critical to success. 

In my business, we offer an in-house apprenticeship program. I provide classroom education through the Plumbing Heating Cooling Contractors Association Educational Foundation online classes. Our on-the-job training oversight is provided by the U.S. Department of Labor. It sounds like a lot, but we implemented this program when we had only three trucks in our fleet and were still working out of my parents’ garage.

Positive shifts in public perception are happening. The Google Career Certificate program is proof. It’s now our opportunity to consider how the plumbing industry will go with the new flow.

About the Author

Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at anja@acpupstate.com.


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