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The rapidly changing workplace makes acquiring new skills more important than education

Key Points
  • The majority of the U.S. workforce today doesn't have a college degree, and these workers are moving toward building "skill sets that are transferable," says Irina Novoselsky, CEO of CareerBuilder.
  • The speakers at CNBC's Capital Exchange event emphasize that employers need to provide opportunities for their workers to grow and learn new skills as their jobs evolve.
  • "Credentials don't matter as much anymore. It's all about competencies that you possess to be able to work," says Jason Wingard, dean of professional studies at Columbia University. "Just having a graduate degree from an Ivy League institution isn't cutting it anymore."
  • While acknowledging the adoption of more skill-based recruitment, the speakers in the second panel note the challenges that older workers face as they struggle to retain their jobs.
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Catalyte CEO at Capital Exchange talks acquiring skills beyond college

The workplace is changing faster than ever, and acquiring new skills has become far more important than having the right credentials, according to speakers at CNBC's Capital Exchange event, The New American Workforce, held in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

The majority of the U.S. workforce today doesn't have a college degree, and these populations are moving more toward building "skill sets that are transferable," according to Irina Novoselsky, CEO of CareerBuilder. "They are really looking to search [for jobs] based on things they know how to do and based on their skills," she said.

Novoselsky and Jacob Hsu, Catalyte CEO, held the event's first conversation, "Creating a More Qualified, Diverse Future Workforce," in which they discussed how fast technological advancement is affecting the U.S. workforce and talent recruitment.

Approximately 40-50% of employees don't think they're equipped to do their current job because of how quickly technology is changing, according to Novoselsky. This often leads to employees feeling like they don't have the right skills to be qualified for job openings.

"The workforce needs to be able to continue to shift as these technological changes make their way through companies, business models and industries," Hsu said. He added that employees need to evolve and adapt to the environment by acquiring new capabilities and skills through professional experiences beyond college.

Both speakers said they see this change as an opportunity "because jobs in the future don't require a pedigree."

"In fact, I think a lot of times what's been a challenge for our economy is that we have become overly reliant on things like your resume, where you went to school [and] your LinkedIn profile. In reality, those are not very predictive of your ability to actually be successful and be a high performer in these jobs in the future," Hsu said.

Novoselsky agreed and said the younger generation that make up about two-thirds of the workforce across all companies don't "view resumes in the typical sense."

"When you think about the growth areas of the U.S. economy, the top 20 occupations, over 50% of them aren't requiring a college degree in the typical sense anymore," she said. These occupations include home health, technician, software developer and sales.

The speakers also emphasized that employers need to provide opportunities for their workers to grow and learn new skills as their jobs evolve. By hiring people based on their skills and potential to prosper, companies can retain their workforce longer and adapt to new environments faster.

Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, and Jason Wingard, dean of professional studies at Columbia University, touched on similar topics during the second panel.

They agreed that workers need to be more adaptable and flexible in acquiring relevant skill sets, regardless of age and years of professional experience.

"Credentials don't matter as much anymore. It's all about competencies that you possess to be able to work. ... Going to Columbia and just having a graduate degree from an Ivy League institution isn't cutting it anymore," said Wingard.

"You actually have to have and possess the competencies needed, and that changes very rapidly, so you have to be able to adjust and upscale yourself very quickly," Wingard said. "Whatever that job is and whatever the requirements are, whoever can do it best is going to be able to have that job. ... [There's] no more meritocracy based on your tenure in the role. It's about who can do this job. [They] don't care if you're 70 years old or 24."

While acknowledging the adoption of a more skill-based recruitment in the workforce today, Jenkins and Wingard also noted the challenges that older generations face as they struggle to retain their jobs.

Many older workers are choosing to continue to work instead of retiring because they either want to or have to for financial reasons, according to Jenkins.

"People are living and aging differently than they have in the past," she said.

"If you think about your work life from the realm that [you] might live to be 90 or 100, [you need to ask] how are you going to ... make sure you're prepared for a job 40 or 50 years from now?"

Jenkins also stressed the importance of age diversity by saying companies that have multiple generations in the workplace at one time "far outperform" those that don't.

"I would push back on the idea that just because you're older you don't use technology," she said.

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AARP CEO on Multi-Generational Workforce at Capital Exchange Summit