Credentialism’s Curse

Posted on December 10, 2011 by


I worry for the future of our economy, and more so, of jobs and education.

Over the past several years, there has been a marked increase in the demand of credentials surpassing the demand for actual work experience. In the past, it was no problem to obtain an administrative assistant position with a high school education. Experience working in a clerical position placed you higher on the list, and the more experience the more useful you were to the business. If you did have a college degree, you were considered “high demand,” considering college graduates learn technical and software skills. Now, you’re competing with the other people with degrees, who also have experience, and additional credentials for an entry-level administrative position. That’s right, folks: your run of the mill administrative assistant working in the business field might even have an M.B.A.!

Why has credentialism gained so much popularity in our current market? It’s because the U.S.’s economy is heavily service-based, versus production-based. A service sector relies on people who are able to present (or fake) skills most people learn over time: communication, the ability to relate and work well with people, use software, be a “team player,” and is “detail oriented,” amongst other skills. The current market does not instill the ability to learn the skills contributing to the production of goods; the economy is focusing on managing and marketing intangibles. It is true intangibles are worthy to invest time and money in, and are necessary—such as sales and marketing— because every heavy equipment, machinery, engineering, and construction company needs to be able to market and sell their products. However, when the marketing rep eyeing the promotion can only receive it by getting a Master’s, there’s a problem.

This is currently creating dents in the healthcare field. In the past, a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing Sciences (B.S.N) was sufficient. Now, if a nurse seeks to become a nurse manager, a Master’s degree is required. Soon, a doctorate degree will be required because of the increasing requirements wrought on from a credentialist market.

In an article from The National Review, they highlight a few factors contributing to the stagnation of the current economy. I note the following:

“Having to pile on education removes productive years in the work force. This is justifiable when education results in gains in productivity, but just as in education, I suspect that all the extra years for physical therapists and nurses is not doing anything but signalling, and further tightening up labor supply as the number of patients keeps on increasing because of the aging of the population.”

The majority of the labor sector does not benefit from higher education and more credentials. Manufacturing jobs don’t require a Master’s or Ph.D. because it is worth more to invest the time into actual working hours learning a trade rather than sitting in a classroom. Unfortunately, manufacturing is taking a hit, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Outlook:

The service sector is experiencing something quite the opposite:

The more workers are taken out of the labor market, the lower their productivity. Workers have historically been rewarded based on how much they produce, but now the current economy rewards for credentials, while suffering in production.