Academic Inflation – Disaster in the Work Place

Ever hear of the term Academic Inflation? It became a household phrase after it was used by Sir Ken Robinson in his now famous Ted talk Schools Kill Creativity. Academic inflation certainly isn’t a new concept but it was with this talk that its use crossed into the vernacular of the general public and out from behind the pedagogical curtain.

Academic inflation can be best described as the devaluing of the various markers with which we measure someones educational achievement. Most commonly associated with higher education, where once a bachelors degree was a ticket to the good life, we have seen its value decline and become little more than the minimum level of education one needs if they hope to be “gainfully employed”. The High School Diploma, societies previous academic minimum, is virtually useless as a gateway into today’s work world.

Now this devaluation has even extended into the sacred rhelm of Post Graduate Degrees. At one time  having or needing a Masters or PhD was a rare thing but today you can’t pitch a rock down the street without hitting someone with one of these high falutin documents thumbtacked to their workspace wall. Back in the day, attaining a Post Graduate Degree was something special, an indication of lofty academic achievement, something that set you apart from the unwashed masses but today these degrees have simply become part of the common currency we use for acquiring gainful employment.

At this point you might be asking yourself, “So what is wrong with that? People getting educated is a good thing!” Well nothing I suppose but here is the problem as see it.  At one time experience stood for something, frequently more than education. In fact experience was so important in acquiring a job back in the day, that getting a Masters or PhD without spending some time in the trenches was a major no no. No one wanted to higher a high priced know it all that had no practical experience but that was then.

In today’s world, kids power on through their education, attaining high levels of education with nary a bead of sweat on their brow from actual work. Now these twenty somethings are parachuting into senior management positions with out a clue as to how things roll in the real world.  They use phrases like “research says” and “studies have shown” but haven’t a clue how this research and or studies translate when the rubber hits the road. Where once, the phrase “experience tells us” was something to listen too and the people who use it respected, now workplaces are awash with pie eyed, inexperienced leadership with nothing but book learnin to guide the ship.

We are heading for interesting times as the boomer population begins to retire on mass and academic achievements continue to be devalued.  We are bound to get more of this kind of scenario occurring in public service and private industry but is this a good thing? Fresh thinking is one thing but theory in the absence of experience is a disaster waiting to happen.

I think what is actually going to happen as the baby boom retirement crunch starts to take hold is that we will see more hands on training by companies themselves. As man power becomes short in supply, companies will have to attract workers with on the job skills training and pay for any academic education an employee needs just to hold onto them.

Only time will tell but until then Research says…


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