Schooled or skilled?

Sweden’s largest daily Dagens Nyheter runs an article today, claiming that Swedes are becoming overqualified for the jobs offered in the country. 37 percent of all employees think that they have more education than their job requires, up from 18 percent in 1974. The article is then partly blaming the government with its goal that 50 percent of all students should move on to college. The other ones to blame is supposedly the natural business cycles: students graduating in a recession have a hard time finding a job, and when times get better the newly graduated students get hired since they have “fresher knowledge”.

I am not entirely sure that this is a good reflection of how things really are (and if it is – then things are really sad). If the most important knowledge students gain at university can be categorized as “fresh” - then they are not learning how to learn. Something I have criticized for a long time is the tendency to immediate (and uniform) specialization that Swedish university students are being subjected to. For some reason, Swedes tend to deeply appreciate and respect the specialist, and at the same time think that the generalist is a rather vague and meaningless person.

If you are a Swede pursuing an international business career you might be better off pursuing a different path towards a degree, though. Most people in Swedish banks have bachelor or master degrees in Small Business Economics, but this “employee stereotype” is almost amusing when you compare it to the people at a US or UK bank (still searching for article link). If you start working for an investment bank or a consultancy in London you are more likely to have studied something else, such as political science or history. In Stockholm you end up having everyone specialized – in the same way (sounds pretty general to me).

Perhaps I am exaggerating a bit, but my experiences from studying both computer science and small business economics at Swedish universities are rather distinct. Today’s curriculums are better than the ones from 1994, and nowadays software engineers are also being taught that they should be able to communicate orally (scary!) with colleagues, hold presentations, think about user interface and other “irrelevant things”.

My conclusion is that Swedes still have some learning to do – and the subject is life-long learning. An acceptance and embracement of a generalist view is more important in a world where we don’t know for sure what we will be doing in the future. It is important to have skills, but it is essential knowing how to gain new ones.

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