A different kind of hiring strategy

There is nothing more daunting to a weekly columnist than a deadline hanging over one’s head and a dearth of excuses as all reasonable explanations have been utilized in the past. So I am just going to dive into an article I stumbled on The Huffington Post UK that demonstrates potential disruption in future hiring strategies. Penned by Lucy Sherriff, the article is titled “Ernst & Young Removes Degree Classification From Entry Criteria As There’s No Evidence University Equals Success”. It goes without saying that anyone reading that will sit up and pay attention as Ernst & Young (E&Y) is one of the Big Four global accounting firms and, according to the article, the fifth largest recruiter of graduates in the United Kingdom.

What has E&Y figured out that the rest of us haven’t? According to the article,
Maggie Stilwell, EY’s managing partner for talent, said the company would use online assessments to judge the potential of applicants. “Academic qualifications will still be taken into account and indeed remain an important consideration when assessing candidates as a whole, but will no longer act as a barrier to getting a foot in the door,” she said.
“Our own internal research of over 400 graduates found that screening students based on academic performance alone was too blunt an approach to recruitment.
“It found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken.”

In addition to the quickly forgotten aviation college scandal, our back street forgers continue to churn out Nobel Prize winning copies of degrees that are bandied about loosely by job applicants. Delinquent university students brazenly get their dissertations and assignments written for a fee by academic hustlers arriving at a degree that is part figment of imagination, part luck and a whole lot of balderdash that will only be uncovered after the same delinquent student is mistakenly hired. Frankly speaking I have always wondered what it is that a university degree adds to a potential hire for a non-professional job. By professional I mean lawyer, doctor, engineer, architect, accountant and the like. In my former banking life, I worked with colleagues that were chemical engineers, doctors, civil engineers, computer scientists, art majors, political scientists amongst several other varieties of non-banking related degrees. You see, there is no such thing as a Bachelor of Banking degree. You just had to be numerate, literate and fortunate to land a degree in what was and still is perceived as a lucrative industry. It is only in the last 15 years when a degree became a minimum entry requirement into many of the banks. In Barclays particularly, I worked with many colleagues who had joined the bank straight after their A-levels. They were smart, experienced and highly professional individuals who had learnt everything about banking in exactly the same way that I, with my university degree, had learnt. By asking questions, by being given tasks, by making (horrendous and expensive) mistakes and by being sent for in-house training. Most importantly, they had one thing that I didn’t: institutional memory and good instincts that came from years of experience. No university can teach you that. It was also a great source of tension whenever a retrenchment rolled by, as they were the easiest to target once the “mimimum qualification is a degree” rule was applied.

The upshot of these ruminations is: not every job needs a degree. It just needs a numerate, literate and, in the fast paced and rapidly changing work environment that rules today, consummate user of technology. One who is not afraid to ask questions or posture about his university pedigree. One who has tons of good attitude and an aptitude to learn and one, I daresay, who scored a C+ and below in her secondary school exams. Why you ask? That student will spend her future proving that four years of studying cannot be crammed into eight weeks of exams the result of which are supposed to define the rest of her non-academic life. If you have any doubts pop into the public university nearest to you and sit in on one of the classes. Once you get tired of counting classes of more than 200 students that have one lecturer who is supposed to mark all their assignments and exam scripts, you will start to realize that perhaps that university degree isn’t the quality guarantee that you had in mind.

In other completely unrelated news, I watched with horror a news item a few weeks ago where traders in a market in Kitengela were having run-ins with locals. The bone of contention was the usual nonsensical tribal rhetoric of “you are not from here therefore you don’t deserve to be doing business here.” I’ve quipped my thoughts in rabid discussions about the “bubble” that is the Kitengela, Isinya and wider Kajiado County land frenzy. The number of family disputes that have already arisen from forged land titles by errant sons or land sales in exchange for motor vehicles that end up on stones as cars cannot fuel or service themselves are legendary. Kajiado County is (forgive me this newly found euphemism) a hotbed of bubbling land issues that are sure to surface during Kenya’s predictable election cycle. I sincerely hope that I am proved wrong, but Kajiado County will be in 2017 what the North Rift was in 2007 and Likoni in 1997. The number of “outsiders” who have legitimately bought land in the buying boom over the last eight years are bound to be the fly in the ointment of a rapidly declining local population who still need grazing pasture and who are painfully bearing the losses of squandered windfalls. I am reliably informed that other than land that is proximate to the main road, excitement has cooled for property in the hinterlands of Kitengela and Kisaju. Idle land, coupled with flat broke former landowners and some incendiary politicians: A recipe for a perfect political storm.

Carol.musyoka@gmail.com
Twitter: @carolmusyoka