I say HUZZAH!! or if you like HOORAY!! because today is an auspicious day in the history of the federal government. President Trump signed an executive order directing recruiting offices within the Executive Branch to consider skill abilities as important as possession of a degree. Those who know me can vouch for the fact that I have, for more years than I like to remember, advocated that both the private and public sector would be better served by developing a series of skills tests for hiring. We have assumed far too long that people with college and advanced degrees were somehow superior to people with life experience. This, of course isn’t and never has been true. It was just something that culturally overtook us at the end of WWII. So, using these degrees as discriminators rather than whether the individual had the best skills to fill the vacant position often resulted in passing on some highly skilled performers who missed their chance to make a mark because of the system of hiring we had adopted.
Today, we have students making themselves indentured servants for a goodly portion of their lives working to obtain degrees which end up being of little use in obtaining actual employment. Now, many will contend that college is where you’re supposed to learn to think and what we need are thinkers. At one time, that was probably true, but it isn’t necessarily the case these days. Think of the degrees some students, especially liberal arts majors, are pursuing today and the old basket weaving joke about jocks will rear its ugly head. What we need are problem solvers with practical experience in doing things vice just thinking about them and writing papers on how, theoretically, the problem might be solved.
That said, we have to be careful when defining the skills and attributes necessary for the job at hand. I remember when one Director at the Agency decided we could hire people from the police to be case officers, and they did. Regrettably, that was a poor decision since being a policeman and being a case officer are decidedly different undertakings, as they would have been told had anyone bothered to check with the experienced case officers. Police officers are figures of authority, they carry badges and guns and are used to being obeyed when they instruct someone to do something. When that someone doesn’t follow their orders they become frustrated and can be overbearing. Case officers carry neither badge nor gun and are taught never to tell someone to do something, but to convince them they either want or need to do it. Thus a softer, more circuitous approach is needed. Additionally, police live in the accelerated world of action-consequence, so long term operations are not so much in their bailiwick. They make better security officers. Like anything else this is not universally so and there are some police officers who made good case officers but it was generally more because of their individual personality than their professional training. So, while some skill sets might seem intuitively appropriate for what you need they might actually be a complete opposite. This is why most nations have separate intelligence and security services.
If we truly want to become a meritorious society vice a society of classes determined by having or not having a college degree, and further which college we attended, then we will follow this guidance and develop skills testing to replace academic learning. I could take a cheap shot here at a number of supposedly top colleges, but I won’t. Let’s just say that in my fifty years of service I discovered it wasn’t important where you got your knowledge but what you did with it. Would that others could discover the same.