Inflation, Recession, and Global Warfare … (Degree or No Degree?)

By Robert Iskander

As high school seniors and community college students start their new academic year this fall, anxiety is high from what they are hearing on the news: Over 5 million Ukrainian refugees are looking for jobs; meanwhile, global companies are laying off staff and tightening their spending. Many countries are experiencing weak economies because of a record 10% annual inflation.

The cost of living is going up, interest rates are going up, unemployment is going up. It seems as if bad news is everywhere. So, what should a soon-to-graduate student be doing at this stage? Should they apply for college loans to fund a higher education degree? Should they just get any job for now since minimum wages are going up as well? Or is there a better career alternative at this stage?

My advice to these students is to do some investigative research to identify specific skilled labor shortages and try to focus on these career pathways. Start by identifying a few career pathways that are interesting, then find out how to get trained and certified in the skills required for these high-demand jobs. There are 6-month certificates available from several online educational providers, such as Coursera’s Career Academy program, that would offer these students affordable online training and certification programs parallel to their high school or college classes. Most times, they are available for free, funded by corporate sponsors such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.

We have all heard the term “the great resignation,” which refers to the large number of skilled workers in specific industries (such as teachers, nurses, retail workers, airline crew, and many others who are at risk by working onsite) that have resigned their jobs in the post-COVID era. They have pivoted their careers to work in more flexible, and sometimes better paying, work-from-home jobs or part-time consulting gigs. This has left their employers desperately seeking to replace them. Despite the layoffs in other white-collar corporate positions, there are still huge shortages in these specific professions.
One interesting career opportunity is “IT professionals in educational institutions.” There is a huge shortage of IT professionals in schools, mainly because schools cannot attract enough of them with the salaries and benefits they traditionally offer.

Because of shortages of experienced and well-trained IT professionals in schools, especially in highly specialized areas such as cybersecurity, data analytics, and Cloud IT Operations, most of these positions remain open or have to be outsourced to third party contractors. This has resulted in major IT infrastructure weaknesses and security vulnerabilities, that have led to expensive ransomware attacks on schools.

There is a great opportunity now for high school and community college students to learn and earn a 6-month IT Professional Certificate while enrolled in high school or community college. Besides the professional certification program, these students could also apply for paid internships and eventually apply for an entry level position in IT by the time they graduate from high school. These entry level positions pay as much as $60,000 in annual salary, which is approximately $30 per hour! That is two or three times more than minimum wage (depending on the city in which they live). The best part is that many of these IT jobs have flexibility to work remotely or from home, which allows the employees to compete for higher paying out-of-state jobs and, sometimes, out of their home countries altogether.

Global Grid for Learning (GG4L) has recently started a career readiness program in partnership with Coursera, Google, Microsoft, and AWS. The program is called the Certified School Passport Administrator (CSPA). Its goal is to help school districts recruit their own graduating students by providing them with online training, certifications, internships, and apprenticeships. The program will help place Career and Tech Education (CTE) high school students in these entry-level positions in schools. There is outrageous demand from school districts for this program. It started with a small pilot this summer, but GG4L hopes to scale this program to place thousands of students in school IT Jobs next year. Besides the IT professional certification, GG4L plans to expand the program to other CTE career pathways.

If you are a graduating senior student who is concerned about what is going on around the world, think about how to plan your short-term career pathway now. There are many well-paying career opportunities that do not require a college or university degree. Postponing higher education by one or two years may not be such a bad idea, as it would allow you to try an acceptable profession while earning a decent income for the next couple of years. Eventually, one of your employers may subsidize the cost of your higher education degree while working part time. So why apply for a loan now when you are not 100% certain which higher education degree pathway you would like to take? It is a big decision to make: Pursue a 4-year degree or defer it for a couple of years?

About the author

Robert Iskander is a global business transformation leader, passionate about leveraging technology to improve the quality of life for all, focusing especially on K-12 education, and nominated as one of the Top 100 EdTech Influencers in 2017 by EdTech Magazine. Prior to his current role as CEO at GG4L, Robert had several corporate leadership roles over the past 30 years, including general manager of Sun Microsystems in the Middle East, and global director of education at Sun Microsystems (now Oracle). He also ran SchoolMessenger for several years and grew its customer base to 63,000 schools in the U.S. and Canada.