Education Rut: My Theory On Why No One Is Applying (Or Hiring)

In case you missed it, I live in a van now. You can get more on that if you follow me on Instagram. The one thing I’m sure you didn’t miss: how desperate everyone is to hire right now. Whether it’s tech or a tapas restaurant, the digital and literal Now Hiring signs are everywhere. 

Florida is no different. Driving through the West coast of the state over the last 4 weeks, it’s very obvious to me just how dire the hiring need is. Every single block has a billboard or sign. Every door has a plea. In some cases, I saw signs for free housing and other perks you usually see reserved for tech talent in Silicon Valley. 

Nothing new there, but now the businesses are feeling the consequences. I’m seeing more tweets from people across the country that their favorite places are closed. On road signs, people are posting: “Please be patient, we can’t hire anyone.” Frankly, it feels like people are starting to give up.

How Did Hiring Get Here?

Never in my life did I expect to see a talent market where businesses are dying because they can’t find people. I also didn’t expect to live through a widespread pandemic, but here we are. Things have clearly changed. 

The more I see these signs, the more I wonder why it happened. Where are all the people? And no, it’s not because they don’t want to work.

My first thought is that we lost a lot of people in the widespread pandemic, for one thing. Almost a million people as of the day I’m writing this blog. (You can see a real time number here.) Even half a million more people in the market here in the USA definitely would make a difference. 

But I have another hypothesis that actually predates this pandemic – a hypothesis about how we sold education and work. 

Requiring Degrees is Coming Back to Bite Us

When my generation was in school (80’s babies), it seemed like college was the only option. There was no discussion of not wanting debt. If you didn’t have a college degree, you were shit out of luck. Our parents, despite not having their own degrees, insisted. Many of us were the first in our families to go to college.

Now trying to convince everyone that a better life only happens if you have a degree is turning into thousands of jobs people with degrees don’t want. This generation of college graduates were told they wouldn’t have to work on a manufacturing line, waitress, or drive a truck if they went to college. Now, those are the jobs available. 

Twist: all these people have debt that makes it impossible for them to take the job anyway. They can’t afford to have a roof and pay those student loan payments. The combination of selling an expensive dream and not paying people enough to cover it is catching up with us at the cost of small businesses. 

Demand and online consumerism went up. The American dream for college went up. But wages stayed the same, and now small businesses are paying the cost (again). Small businesses are the ones that suffer the most when they have to cut back hours or they can’t get products on time – when they can’t get people to work at a rate where they can still make a margin. 

Change Starts With Us

There’s a 3 fold answer, in my head, but I’m curious what others think. I’m no economist, but I can see an economy on the verge of something changing. 

What needs to change? 

  1. Wear a mask. This isn’t a political statement, this is a fact. People are dying and if you don’t want people to die so they can work for you, we need to prevent the dying part. 
  2. Stop requiring (and insisting that kids get) college degrees. It’s not necessary for most jobs and no one needs crippling debt.  
  3. Change wages. We can’t keep paying minimum wage and expect a flow of candidates. Change your prices and process for profitability, and most importantly – change your pay if you want college educated people to work for you. 

When we’re in desperate need of hires, we can’t expect to hire in the same way we have before. Because let’s face it – it’s not that candidates don’t want to work, they are just pushed away before they even have a chance to apply. Not only do we need to do our part to end the pandemic, but we also need to adjust our hiring to this new world now that this is our reality. From changing (eliminating) your degree requirements and changing your wages, we can get hiring back on track.

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Kat Kibben View All →

Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster,, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

3 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Thanks Katrina. I think this is very astute. The pandemic is a portal, through which very little will remain the same. There is good to that, but many of these changes will take a minute. I agree with your hypothesis and thank you for your great work.

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