Friday, November 26, 2004

The Next Front In The Revolution?

The Old Media is dead. Being ornery, they won't admit it. Now you know where the legend of 'zombies' started; the old town criers didn't like being replaced by the newspapers, and the old witch doctors didn't like finding out they were replaced by men and women who understood the patterns of weather and the cycles in nature. Long after they were useless, they brayed on. The new Media will include reporters and news networks, because the need for reliable sources for news will always be there. But the empires of opinion-makers and trend-setters have been shaken to their foundations by the rise of the new options and alternatives in Information Analysis, best illustrated by the exponential growth of Blogs. I would contend, however, that the Revolution in Information is now ready to show another front.

I first began to suspect this front years ago, long before I had read my first blog. Baylor University, where I earned my degree, was asking me for money. Again. In fact, the heavy majority of Baylor's mail to me has always been asking for money. Money for the Liberal Arts, Money for the Football team, Money for new Scholarships and Endowments. Now, don't misunderstand me; Baylor is a pretty good school, as universities go. But, when I was in a bad way eonomically, Baylor's response was to tell me that my family made too much money to qualify, even though we couldn't afford the three of us in school at that time. Grants which I qualified for, I was not told about, as well as Scholarships. On-campus employment was denied to me, largely because the people deciding the employments had no standards to satisfy; those in particular need or especially qualified were ignored; the epitome of "it's who you know".

I'm not trying to trash Baylor. Like I said, for a university, they're pretty good. But they're badly run and poorly organized. Worse, they won't admit it. And when you get right down to it, unless you decide for yourself what you're going to do with your pricey education, the Guidance Counselors at Baylor won't be much help preparing you for the Real World. Absolutely none of the classmates I knew ever got so much as a single interview from the Counselors, and I would have changed my major and planning at age 18 if I had received proper direction, instead of learning the hard way what does and does not work.

Fast forward to 1988. Having worked hard and received several promotions over 5 years with one Corporation, I opened a facility and hired a staff of sixty employees. While there were very specific skills I looked for and helped my team develop, the simple fact is that in many careers, while a formal degree can help you get a better position and pay, the quality of work you do is not tied to your classwork and grades. It's very important for managers and supervisors to know what skills and talents to look for in employees, but in many companies, the policy is strictly tied to formal education, and it's casually assumed that a degree means a certain level of competency. That myth is finally breaking apart, and the need for a better standard of competency must take its place.

If Bill Gates did nothing else, he helped to revolutionize the Workplace by creating a new class of employee; the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE). In companies using the Microsoft platforms, having an MCSE on staff became critical, and the IT guy would often be better-paid than some Senior VP's. It didn't matter if he hadn't spent a day in college, so long as Microsoft had certified him. Alternatives to the standard degree became obvious, even critical.

Now that Information Management has been recognized as a discipline and talent in its own right, corporations and major employers are re-evaluating the criteria they use in selecting employees. And as for college degrees? With the new technology available, remote classwork is possible, along with variable scheduling, so that a new wave of fully-accredited colleges have arrived for the full-time worker to gain the degree proving academic accomplishment. Universities are on notice: Reputations must be confirmed, not used for laurel beds.

When Dan Rather leaves the anchor desk at CBS News next March (and hopefully, sterner measures will preventing him from continuing to collect paychecks from that company), he may be joined by some of the more arrogant professors from elitist universities. Reality has a way of showing up unexpectedly.

And for the record, no, I will not be sending Baylor University any of my money. They haven't earned it.

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