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The Tragic Reality of 4-Year Degrees

The modern-day education system may be at the end of its vaunted run as a pipeline for employer talent. I’m never one to declare something dead before its day, but the way things are going, workforce development companies like my own are metaphorically preparing to attend a funeral. I’m going to ask readers to prepare with us as we take a hard look at some of the topics the education system refuses to address, demanding a legitimate response from those who are holding the line for four-year universities. As a workforce development company, some may consider my opinion bias on the matter, but the argument is nearly flawless in its execution and may leave you pondering the question that’s on everyone’s mind. Is a degree still worth it?

Past Their Prime

There’s no shame in admitting when something has outlived its usefulness. Kids outgrow clothing, cars break down, and the needs of a society always change. Some tools are built for a specific time and purpose, and most scholars would agree, the education system was built when factory jobs were the greatest source of prosperity in America. Because of this fact, you often hear the term “factory-model education,” or “industrial era schools,” to describe the foundation of the education system put in place in the mid 19th century. Some argue that there isn’t a direct correlation between the industrial revolution and modern education, but that’s not exactly relevant to the argument that the system is outdated.

During the peak of its usefulness, the education system was a way to guarantee anyone completing the requirements emerged with a baseline knowledge level that would benefit almost any employer. These benefits were all but guaranteed because the lack of diversity in occupations left most Americans with very few choices for a path to a better life. According to the 1920 Census, manufacturing and agriculture jobs accounted for almost 60% of active occupations. The U.S. also saw a four-fold increase in manufacturing jobs between 1880 and 1920 according to a research paper by Charles Hirschman and Elizabeth Mogford, published by the National Institute of Health.

So whether or not you believe the term “factory education” is meant to describe the purpose-built nature of the education system or the methodical way in which it produces learning outcomes, it doesn’t change the fact it’s essentially a one size fits all model. At no fault of its own, a one size fits all model was the only way for the education system to scale to its current size, but it may no longer be useful for today’s population, and retooling it for the demands of the modern workforce is proving to be a daunting task.

False Advertising

Manufacturing Jobs Chart
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The remnants of the Industrial Revolution have long since faded in the U.S., with the majority of manufacturing shifting to offshore, and the population of workers currently employed in the manufacturing sector dipping to 8% of nonfarm payroll in 2018.  The promise of higher standards of living and pay associated with these kinds of jobs also disappeared, as Zip Recruiter reports the average annual salary of a factory worker is ~$27,000, placing them ~$5000 below the U.S. median income level. 

Interestingly enough, the education system adopted similar marketing points to factory jobs during the Industrial Revolution, and even though the manufacturing sector has moved on from those talking points, the education system has not. A quick internet search for the benefits of higher education almost always returns the same talking points:

  1. More freedom to choose a career path
  2. Higher average income
  3. More advancement opportunities

The summation of their talking points is a “better life.” As someone who has spent a significant amount of his career in the marketing department, I applaud the length of time the education system has carried on touting outcomes they cannot directly control. In a traditional situation, we would call this false advertising. 

Even if at some point the statistical data proved these outcomes likely, an indirect correlation between the two is a best-case scenario, and a shift in employment needs was bound to separate inputs from desired outcomes at some point. As the type of employee organizations desire shifts from those with generalized knowledge to those with highly specialized skill sets, individuals burdened with student debt and a lack of employment opportunities definitely have a reasonable claim for false advertising.

The Demand for Skills Increases

The widely advertised benefits of higher education have been taken on faith for the last couple of generations, prompting parents to steer their children away from trade schools, artistic pursuits, and jobs that involve creating things with their hands. The result has been a generation with the highest college graduation rate in history, leaving the U.S. with a shortage of skilled workers to fill many of the highest-paying jobs still available. The most notable of highly-skilled sector jobs that remain available are those in the Technology sector, which is leveraging their disproportionate labor/income ratio to monopolize desirable occupations.

As the demand for tech workers increases, the sector is beginning to create its own workforce pipelines with certifications for Salesforce Admins, Google IT, CompTIA Security, etc., and it’s creating a divide between job seekers and traditional education. Considering the higher costs, longer duration, and lack of security offered by pursuing employment through traditional education, the perceived value of a college degree is disappearing by the year, month, and hour. So where does this leave the role of universities? Is a college degree still worth it? These are all valid questions, and ones that I can’t answer in 1000 words or less.

What I can tell you is that RTR Digital is open to finding a method to work with the educational institutions to develop a way for learners to acquire skills and generalized knowledge at a single location. Right now, those graduating with a college degree are offering employers no discernable way to gauge their skill set outside of customized assessments. To be honest, it’s probably going to have to be educational institutions that find more flexibility in their processes, as their leverage in the situation continues to disappear. As long as the financial burden imposed on those who took the traditional path continues to be a main topic of discussion, the demand for society to still view higher education as a source of positive outcomes will fall on deaf ears

Advertising Branding Business Digital Marketing WordPress

A Website? You Ain’t Ready!

As a professional website developer, I would say 90% of people I meet are not ready for a basic website, maybe a splash page, but definitely not a full site. Regardless of that fact, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, “it’s just a simple informational website,” and that statement proves to be untrue. Nothing is as simple as it seems, and no one is ever truly ready, so how can developers and clients know where to start? 

Not as Far Along as You Think

Figuring out a starting point for web designs is probably a bit simpler than you would imagine. There are three factors that determine individuals’ and organizations‘ readiness for a website, and they all have to do with understanding the basics of a marketing funnel. It’s not enough to simply understand the funnel, it’s about having realistic expectations about where an entity is within it. Whenever someone approaches me about a website they always imagine themselves ready to complete online transactions, generate leads, or even build the next Facebook, but those actions happen at the bottom of a marketing funnel, not the top. 

Marketing Funnel Diagram
A realistic list of webpages corresponding to the marketing funnel

The top of a funnel is all about building awareness, and that alone has implications on the amount and type of content that gets posted online. A developer or business owner constructing a website is usually at the top of the funnel and only needs to focus on a few things.

  1. Clearly identifying the industry in which they operate business i.e., product, service, or research.
  2. Stating product/service category the business falls within.
  3. Listing the proper products or services within the business’s sub-categories.

Most of these requirements can easily be met if developers and clients are adhering to business plans, but honestly, that’s rarely ever the case. So for the sake of discussion, I’m going to imagine you skipped a couple of steps and start from the beginning, explaining the easiest way to start building an outline for a website. Yes, just like you’re English teacher explained, every document starts with an outline, and websites are documents too.

Outline Basics

Websites follow rigid formatting rules, and creating a basic outline makes it easier for clients and developers to adhere to those rules. Only after creating an outline can developers add images, move items on-screen, and integrate animations to make visitors forget they’re still merely reading a brochure for a business. But before we can metaphorically build out a full brochure, we need to start with a flyer, and in developer lingo that’s a “splash” or landing page. Yeah, I know you’re disappointed. You were expecting to build a five-to-six page site, but now I’m telling you the objective of this article is to get you to simply start with a landing page. You can try it your way if you want to, but for the best chance of success, keep reading.

A website’s outline follows the same structure as a typical capability statement, so you may have to make some organizational decisions that I’m not sure you have already considered. If you’re unfamiliar with Capabilities Statements, they are like resumes for a business, providing an overview of what a company has to offer. By completing this outline, business owners can kill two birds with one stone if need be, writing a Capability Statement and a website outline at the same time.

The start of the outline should always contain a title. Something simple like, “My Company’s Website Outline,” will suffice for a task like this. The body of the outline follows some basic guidelines, with the company’s industry title at the top, following by a breakdown of service categories, and there should be a list of the products and services, each one with a brief description. If you don’t have all of this information handy, the easiest way to find it is by using the data associated with your North American Industry Classification System code, or NAICS (pronounced NAKES) code. By using the proper NAICS code, both the client and developer have a clear guide to understanding the business, and the products or services they offer.


If a business is classified with the proper NAICS code, the description leaves absolutely no doubt they are describing [this business], and the supplemental information in the system will also provide a list of products and services as well. For example, our NAICS code is 611430 and reads as follows:

“This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in offering an array of short duration courses and seminars for management and professional development. Training for career development may be provided directly to individuals or through employers’ training programs, and courses may be customized or modified to meet the special needs of customers. Instruction may be provided in diverse settings, such as the establishment’s or client’s training facilities, educational institutions, the workplace, or the home, and through diverse means, such as correspondence, television, the Internet, or other electronic and distance-learning methods. The training provided by these establishments may include the use of simulators and simulation methods.” 

-NAICS Code 611430

Yeah, that’s us.

If you need assistance finding a NAICS code for a business you can click here and it will open a new search window. If you’ve already selected code, but you’re having difficulty writing clear marketing material, it might be a good time to revisit this step. The video below will provide the required step in less than 10 minutes.

Successfully completing this part of the process provides all the information clients and developers require to complete the site’s outline. 

Never Enough Content

Even after you’ve completed an outline, that’s still not enough to build a landing page, that’s just the basic wording for the site. The good news is that modern websites rely on less text than ever before, the bad news is that you probably don’t have the right quantity, or quality, of images to complete the project. It’s never easy to explain to anyone that some, or all, of the images they’ve provided for their website, aren’t useful, but try to be gentle.

Developers shouldn’t have expectations for clients to know the difference between image formats and resolutions, but it’s an important part of the development process, and it affects the price of the final product. Expanding everyone’s education level on aspects like transparent backgrounds, vector vs. raster, and how certain images crop on mobile devices will result in a better experience for everyone involved.

Sadly, whenever developers have to secure more images for a project the expectations for development time always change in step, resulting in higher costs relative to the price initially set. As with any other type of contracting work, a conversation about a change in price will always cause friction, with either or both sides feeling a bit blindsided by the outcome.

The best way to avoid these confrontations is to educate everyone as much as possible, something we’re trying to do with this article. Regardless of the amount of preparation going into any project, there will always unforeseen complications, and getting past these friction points always involves trust and cooperation.

The Starting Line

After the completion of the initial client/developer meeting, the outline, and the procurement of the right images, you’ll have enough to build a landing page. From here, it will only get easier.

Landing pages provide the developer and client the opportunity to work with each other on a smaller project before deciding if they want to collaborate on building the entire site. If there is good rapport during this stage of the funnel, both parties will feel more comfortable building a site that delivers the entire customer experience.

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