In our latest #AskWhy episode, Sherry Coutu, a seasoned angel investor and board member of multiple tech organisations, shared her insights about the future of skill acquisition and the transformation of the workforce. She believes that the focus should be more on the acquisition of skills than on traditional university degrees.

Rethinking the Importance of Degrees

Coutu explains her conviction that acquiring skills is more impactful than earning a university degree. She opines that degrees are simply avenues for imparting specific skills to individuals, enabling them to make decisions that lead to their desired impact. Despite the growing trend towards skills-based hiring and AI, she acknowledges that this idea is not widely accepted yet. However, she firmly believes this to be the future.

The Blockers to Skills-Based Evaluation

Coutu highlighted the limitations imposed by the platforms that companies use for hiring. These platforms often prioritise past credentials, such as degrees, and may disregard valuable experience. For instance, a data scientist with six years of experience at Google may be overlooked if they lack a PhD. She also touched on how alternative learning platforms like Coursera or FutureLearn are often disregarded by employers, perhaps due to their unfamiliarity with them. This lack of awareness often leads companies to look for the wrong qualifications, which extends the time taken to fill roles.

The Shift Towards Flexibility

Furthermore, Coutu predicts a shift towards "braided careers," where individuals split their working week between different roles or organisations. She believes this shift is already happening and will become more apparent in the next five years. This prediction stems from the observation that the balance of power has shifted from employers to employees due to technological advancements and the current skills crisis. She argues that as long as individuals possess the skills sought after by employers, they will be able to dictate how, where, and when they work. This could include choosing not to work during certain months of the year or splitting their week between different roles or organisations.

Solving the Skills Gap

As they delved into these issues, Wohle proposed that if skills could be quantified and recognized effectively by employers, it might help alleviate the skills gap and restore balance in the employer-employee relationship. Coutu agreed but noted that inflexible company policies are already quickly declining due to the power shift towards the individual with the skills. During their conversation, both agreed that many of these shifts were accelerated by the global pandemic. These include the shift towards working from home and the growth of the gig economy, which began with blue-collar delivery workers but is likely to extend to white-collar knowledge workers.

Closing Thoughts: Embracing a New Paradigm in Skills and Workforce

It is worth reflecting on the profound shifts they're pointing towards in the realms of education, skill acquisition, and workforce dynamics. Their insights challenge traditional perspectives, urging us to adopt a more adaptive, future-oriented mindset.

Indeed, Coutu's vision presents a radical reimagining of the relationship between education and employment. While many still hold to the conventional belief that university degrees are the undisputed ticket to success, Coutu's argument for the growing importance of specific skills over formal qualifications provokes us to reassess our assumptions. Her perspective underscores that we are indeed at the crossroads of a disruptive shift, one that calls for more adaptability and innovation in both how we learn and how we work.

Moreover, the conversation shines a spotlight on the necessity for greater flexibility within our workplaces. The concept of "braided careers" not only reflects the evolving aspirations of a new generation of employees but also signals a revolution in how work is conducted. With this trend towards more autonomy and less rigidity, we are witnessing the dawn of a workforce that values balance, diversity, and personal fulfilment over the monotony of traditional employment models.

Finally, their discussion emphasises the power of lifelong learning and continuous skill acquisition, highlighting how essential they are in today's rapidly evolving landscape. The value of learning, they suggest, goes beyond formal education or degrees - it lies in the resilience and adaptability it fosters in individuals as they navigate a world of constant change.

In this shifting world, there is one constant – the imperative to learn, grow, and adapt. To ensure that we are not left behind, we must continually question, reevaluate, and innovate. And as we stand at the brink of these unprecedented changes, their conversation reminds us of the power we hold as individuals – the power to shape our futures, our careers, and the evolving world of work.

As we look towards the horizon, it is not just the landscape of work that is changing, but also the underlying values and principles guiding us. It's an exciting, challenging time, one that requires our unwavering commitment to continuous learning, adaptability, and embracing the extraordinary potential that these changes represent. The future of work, as painted by Coutu is not only a revolution of structures but also a profound evolution of mindsets.