Teaching “The Needed Skills” May Not Be Needed

Nano-Degrees , wave of the future of just another hype?

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Dr. Zelihic presented this article as part of her keynote speech at the The Economics, Finance, IT, Management, MIS & International Business Research Conference in London. 

Mark Kwame, co-founder and managing partner of Drive Capital, predicts that four-year university system is on its way out due to fundamental changes within the skillset required for any position (Building the Entrepreneurial Workforce, 2015). The push to teach only the “needed skills” jeopardizes the core purpose of education, originally positioned to develop and nourish young minds, while creating life-long learners, not self-absorbed and self-centered, aware of the issues facing our society. The narrow -minded skill driven spectrum is replacing the broad-minded educational format throughout the academic world. Considering today’s environment of rapid technological changes, many of the “needed tools” become obsolete by the time students finish their degree or shortly thereafter. Through “teaching only the needed skills” focus, academia created a very limited framework, with graduates being successful only if their desired career path remains unchanged (no longer a very plausible scenario).

Lennon indicates that, “third of American companies’ report having job openings for which they cannot find qualified workers with the correct skills. Economists project that by 2020, more than 60 percent of new jobs will require more than a high school diploma, but about half of those new jobs will not require a four-year degree” (2016, para. 6).

Why then so many companies struggle finding the candidates with the right set of skills considering the skill applicability and relevance focus throughout higher education institutions? Creating such a narrow mind set of “career focused” educational model may severely impact student’s ability to access a broad range of educational concepts needed for future leaders.

Lou Anna Simon, president of Michigan State University, talked about how partnership and apprenticeship between businesses and the world of academia is not always steady and is impacted by the economic changes. (America’s Teachable Moments, 2015). Furthermore, the skill set companies require and personality traits employers require are not always perfectly aligned (America Teachable Moments,

Either businesses or universities, or perhaps both, do not communicate effectively, or even more likely the skillsets within many jobs change at a more rapid speed that a four year “career driven” degree program can follow. This relevance concept allows us to go back to the original Kwam’s assertion that we must fundamentally change the length of degree programs. Therefore, the skill-driven approach does not work if one is not capable of adjusting the curriculum as processes change within a particular industry.

Let’s go back to the main pillars of education, broadening students’ horizons and encouraging their creative and critical minds, ensuring that education provides individuals with innovative and analytical capabilities to tackle the ever-changing job market.

*This was presented as a keynote speech at the Economics, Finance, IT, Management, MIS & International Business Research Conference, London, 2016.


America’s Teachable Moment (2015). Pitfalls of career-focused education, and steps educators can take to avoid them. Retrieved from

Building the Entrepreneurial Workforce (2015). Is the four-year institution on the way out? Perspectives on nano-degrees and new formats for education. Retrieved from

Lennon, C. (2016). What Is The Career Readiness Crisis And How Is It Affecting Young People Today? Retrieved from

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