This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society—discuss and develop solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
As 2022 has progressed, the costs of daily living have increased—everything from the 159% increase for canola oil to the 18.3% increase for gasoline. As economists quip, costs shoot up like a rocket and fall like a feather, so even if we weren’t living in a time of COVID-19 subvariants, failing supply chains and conflict in Europe, the price of daily living will remain high for the foreseeable future. While increased costs have had an impact on daily life across the income spectrum, the pains and challenges have not been distributed equally.
It is education more than the size of one’s paycheck that offers better protection against unemployment. It is education that enables occupational choice.
On the surface this seems like a pure economics story, but actually it isn’t. Yes, high-wage workers have been better able to weather the economic downturn while low-wage workers have borne the brunt of job losses spurred by the pandemic and hardships with rising costs. However, following the 2007–2009 Great Recession, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis published a study revealing that, “Contrary to expectations, high-wage workers are not spared job loss during recessions; their unemployment rate rises substantially, largely mirroring those of medium- and low-wage workers”. The differentiator between those who were spared and those who weren’t was education. While education and wages are closely correlated, according to the study’s authors they aren’t “joined the hip.” In fact, it is education more than the size of one’s paycheck that offers better protection against unemployment. It is education that enables occupational choice.
While we are squarely situated in an economic downturn, the job market has remained resilient—for example, the United States added 528,000 jobs in July, Australia had 480,100 job vacancies in May, and vacancies in Netherlands increased to 479,800 in the second quarter. There are jobs to be had, but not enough individuals have the education that enables choice when it comes to pursuing the current opportunities. In the first two months of the pandemic, we experienced two years’ worth of digital transformation. Further, “The pace of technology adoption is expected to remain unabated and may accelerate in some areas. The adoption of cloud computing, big data and e-commerce remain high priorities for business leaders”. As such, more and more jobs require digital and technical skills. It is not only education but also the right skills that enable occupational choice and protect against unemployment.
In a shift to skills-based hiring employers are resetting degree requirements, thereby reversing the years of degree inflation that followed the Great Recession.
By 2025 it is anticipated that the global workforce will absorb 149 million new technology-oriented jobs. These roles will be found in all parts of the workforce, from food production (324,000 new jobs) to healthcare (2 million) to the auto industry (6 million). Digital and technical skills aren’t only for those looking to become software engineers or cybersecurity specialists. Rather, individuals are expected to arrive on their first day of work with the digital skills needed to thrive in the post-2020 working environment—one that takes place more often through a virtual meeting than it does across a conference room table.
It is no longer enough to earn a degree or leave university with good qualification to get a “good job”—60% of IT managers say job applications with industry-recognised certifications are significantly more likely to be reviewed than those without. Further, in a shift to skills-based hiring employers are resetting degree requirements, thereby reversing the years of degree inflation that followed the Great Recession. This shift makes sense when you consider that 66% of IT managers said that employees with industry-recognised technical credentials produce higher quality work. Additionally, 28% of employees reported salary or wage increases while 21% received a job promotion after earning a certification. Were the 2010 Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis study focused on education written today, I suspect that the language would be different as we face an educational landscape made up not only of B.A.s, A.B.s, M.Litt.s, and Ph.D.s but certifications, certificates, micro-credentials and more.
Micro-credentials: The new frontier of adult education and training by James Robson, Deputy Director of Centre for Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance, Oxford University
To this end, at Microsoft we have been working to ensure that everyone has opportunities to learn digital skills and earn industry-recognised technical credentials. We work with communities, nonprofits, and governments to help people excluded from the digital economy gain the foundational, role-based and technical skills to gain jobs and livelihoods through our Skills for Jobs programme; we support making fundamentals certifications and the resources to learn, prepare and get certified free to all eligible students; our Microsoft Learn for Educators programme in partnernership with higher education institutions—whether universities or vocational schools—ensures that students who graduate today are both broadly educated and deeply, technically skilled as they enter the workforce; and we connect skilled individuals with Microsoft customers and partners in need of their talents.
While the pains and challenges of the current higher costs and job losses aren’t distributed equally, and access to educational opportunities have been out of reach for many low-income families, we at Microsoft are working to democratise access to skills-based education to ensure that everyone has greater access to occupational choice.