The economic base for which freedom and capitalism rely on for prosperity is the ability for all to participate. The belief that all men are created equal assumes that any individual with the skill and determination can succeed. This concept however relies on humans to allow each other to converse and exchange ideas as equals, and people unfortunately have a long history of creating barriers to keep certain individuals or "classes" out of an elite arena.
Why it works
America has proven often that talent is not exclusive to the "elite". Andrew Carnegie was Tom Scott's personal assistant before transforming America with steel. Cornelius Vanderbilt was a steamship captain before dominating domestic shipping. Richard Sears worked with the railroads as a teenager before reshaping the sale of general goods. What these and many like them have in common is that they were not born into a "class" that presented opportunity, but through their natural talent and learned grit they carved empires into the economy.
Of course this isn't to suggest that talent only lies within the poor of the nation. J.P. Morgan was born into the legendary House of Morgan, Donald Trump was born into his father's already successful real estate business, and Warren Buffett was the son of a congressman. Talent lies within the general population of man, sometimes it is easy to find, and in others it must be sought after and given opportunity to prove itself.
Today's (Restrictive) Search for Talent
When I was younger, I imagined myself getting a degree in Business, taking a job for a bank or investment firm, and working my way to the top to become a Titan of the Stock Market. Reality however, struck when I graduated high school. I learned that there are no "junior" positions one can take in the industry, a degree is not something to be counted on, and completing four years of college may not be an attainable goal. At the same time, I have come to notice that the game has changed, employers are requiring more experience, more education, more time, and I feel those changes are hurting all parties involved.
College is Drifting out of Reach
Before becoming a mainstream course of action for all high school graduates, college was a luxury only accessible to the wealthy. For this reason, in order to gain the same level of education as a college graduate, a regular person had to work his way up and gain experience in what he was unable to learn at a University. Today however, if you wish to prosper a degree is a requirement. Which would be fine if college degrees were affordable.
The fact is, a four year degree is quickly becoming out of reach for most people. The high cost of tuition and ridiculous cost of text books has pushed many students out of school and into the workforce. Students that could be talented researchers, fearless CEO's, innovative marketers, ruthless negotiators, etc. So now, arguably, college is once again a luxury for the wealthy.
So does that mean that the education system is unfair? Or that it only seeks to help the wealthy or the "elite"? No, it simply means that it is getting too expensive for regular people to have. Which would not be a problem if more and more jobs weren't requiring degrees, and some predict up to 60% of jobs will require higher level education by 2018. What must happen is either Universities need to cost-cut like there's no tomorrow (unlikely to say the least), or employers need to review how they search for candidates.
There's no arguing about the superior qualifications of a college graduate. With a degree a prospect has proven to the employer that they possess traits such as determination, responsibility, and perseverance. Also, they have an understanding of the industry and the laws that govern it, cutting training time drastically. Thus, the only things they need to learn are the specific duties of the job and your company's procedures and policies. However, as the costs of tuition and supplies continue to skyrocket, the supply of graduates will dwindle. With the number of graduates shrinking and the demand for degrees increasing, companies will begin to pay more for these few students, and jobs will be left unfilled. This is where employers will have to think outside of the box. Instead of hiring outside graduates they will need to promote from within, or change the pedigree-based hiring systems that American companies have fallen in love with.
Technology is a wonderful simplifier. It continually changes the way business is done by streamlining the most complicated processes into efficient, easy to understand tasks. There are tasks however, that should only be done by people.
There is no sharper thorn in the side of a job seeker than the cold, faceless obstruction that is automated hiring. If you watch any new employee orientation video they will brag endlessly about how they emphasize the "intangibles" in their employees. They will endlessly talk about how you were selected because of your character, trustworthiness, and friendliness. The process by which you were hired however, suggests the exact opposite. The electronic application systems that are dominating the job market today are completely pedigree-based, kicking out those without certain experience or education. While on the surface this sounds useful and efficient, it strangles the company's ability to search for talent. Professionalism, responsibility, tact, character, and competence are not traits that can be proven on paper, they are proven in person. If a company wants to find a truly talented individual, they must make the interview the basis of the hiring process, and not algorithms. Yes, it will take longer, but the opportunity cost of passing up talent is too great, and a company that feels that its time is more valuable than finding a diamond in the rough employee is lazy and deserves to be left behind.
So, what needs to happen?
As the landscape of employment changes, companies need to change with it. They need to anticipate the coming college graduate shortage previously mentioned by making a logical, capitalistic approach. Instead of assuming all people without college degrees are incompetent, perhaps a risk-adjusted approach is needed. Obviously, the risks are considerably less when hiring a college graduate straight to higher profile position. However instead of turning away all who don't have the means to achieve such education, give tests based on competency and industry specific material. With such tests, an organization can be sure to not run the risk of missing a truly talented person. If a company is fortunate enough to find someone with promise, then they can be qualified for short-duration internships. If they excel there as well, the hiring process can begin. JP Morgan, Edward Jones, and Goldman Sachs have short-term (9-10 weeks) programs that fit the crash course model I am suggesting. Edward Jones is the only program that appears to be paid, which is vital if the goal is to find talent outside of the wealthy.
Regarding pay, the market should reward those who have been able to secure an education relevant to the field they're applying. So naturally, companies should be willing to pay more for these less risky (and cheaper to train) individuals. Those without standard higher education, obviously should be paid less, in accordance with the added risk they bring.
Finally, what needs to happen is companies need to look inwards for talent as well as outwards. I used to work for a Tech company that specializes in software and security for auto dealerships. Within that company is an ingenious initiative to find talent among their employees. For around $300, an employee can take a 4 month class on anything such as accounting, programming, management, or communications. When a promotion or new department opened, an employee could have the advantage of company specific training. It built a culture of loyalty (it wasn't uncommon to see people who started in the 80's), and enabled the company to promote exclusively from within. The most famous story within the company was of a janitor in the 90's working his way to supervisor, then to manager, then director, and at the last company meeting I attended he was promoted to Vice President.
If companies wish to find talent, and not just qualifications, they must expand their search beyond the current narrow scope. What applicants can be expected to afford today, college degrees and unpaid internships, cannot be expected for much longer. Human Resources departments must begin to look for truly talented (not just educated) individuals by providing avenues to get their foot in the door, eliminate obstacles that shrink the pool of applicants, and be willing to train and nurture individuals that show promise. Doing so will ensure no talent is passed up, build massive loyalty to a specific company (the company that gave the individual a chance), and generate a more favorable public perception. Pursuing these principles will ensure equal opportunity towards the American Dream and the Pursuit of Happiness.