Vail Daily column: The network ceiling |

Vail Daily column: The network ceiling

Ross Iverson
Valley Voices

A recent graduate asked me how to best position himself for a career change and new job interview. My immediate response was, “Build your network.” According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of graduate jobs are found through networking.

Fast-forward 20 years and the student has climbed into a middle management role. They return and ask for the same career advice. Should I still prompt them to network? Are they looking for a promotion? Searching for higher paying? Maybe something more challenging or more aligned to their lifestyle?

At what point do you tell the person, “you cannot break through without demonstrated performance and acquiring new skills.” For every person that claims to have “networked” to the top, most professionals cannot break into top management levels unless they perform. Bottom line, performance and education are the great equalizers for professional and financial growth.

Unfortunately, skill building and education in the United States is under great pressure. A recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center states that college enrollment declined for the fifth straight year. This phenomenon is not isolated to a sector. Community college enrollment declined 2.6 percent and for profit institutions at a rate of 15 percent. The State of Colorado underperforms the national trend with a 3.6 percent decline.

‘New collar’

Contributing to this trend was an alarming announcement from IBM CEO Ginni Rometty on Nov. 14, who announced that IBM will no longer require an undergraduate degree when hiring. Rometty coined a term “new collar” as a working class that will skip traditional two and four year education and launch their career with specific education and learning programs linked directly to their job. Roles such as database administrators, web developers, network architects, specialists, managers and directors can succeed with less traditional long-term education in lieu of more targeted curriculum.

Universities argue against the IBM model out of pure preservation, yet they make a strong case for the critical and creative thinking skills garnered in a traditional higher education setting. Long-term solutions will therefore include a mixture of approaches to educate our workforce, encourage internal promotions and catapult employees to higher income levels. Innovative models including certificates and short courses will inspire progressive growth for mid-career professionals and help maintain a balance between formal career development and time or money spent through traditional education.

If you are looking to advance your career, then be careful not to be consumed by networking. Networking will take you so far, and might end up distracting you from building the performance enhancing resume needed to advance.

With a rapidly changing job market, the undergraduate experience still serves an important catalyst to ignite lifelong learning. The big question for parents and incoming students will be, “should I (we) commit 90 percent of the lifelong learning budget before the age of 22?”

New learning models create various pathways for professional mobility. Can you imagine a 22-year-old that has made $200,000 in their first four years of employment and can now choose their career path vs. a 22-year-old that is $200,000 in debt with little direction and an irrelevant degree? The point isn’t to delay the university experience, but re-think and pursue a non-traditional university education to acquire knowledge and advance your career.

Ross Iverson is CEO of the Vail Centre. For more information, go to or email

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