Nassim Nicholas Taleb on ’employability’

Cup next to a wall

The unholy trinity of youth unemployment, increased university fees, and the fear of automation ‘stealing’ jobs seems to have made many in education circles look towards defining ’employability skills’. This seems logical on the surface of things, but it’s actually misguided. Employability isn’t reducible to a set of skills, nor is anyone worth employing in a knowledge economy measured by the same yardstick as the last person you hired.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, firebrand author of Antifragile (one of my favourite non-fiction books) earlier this year shared the preliminary drafts of a new work entitled Skin In the Game: the thrills and logic of risk taking on his website. One chapter he shared is magnificent, and a real wake-up call: How To Legally Own Another Person (PDF).

It’s this section in particular that relates to the ’employability’ agenda/narrative:

The employable person is embedded in an industry, with fear of upsetting not just their employer, but other potential employers.


Perhaps by definition an employable person is the one that you will never find in a history book because these people are designed to never leave their mark on the course of events. They are, by design, uninteresting to historians.

The riposte might be that we ‘can’t all be generals’. There have to be leaders and those who actually do the work — don’t there? As holocratic organisations show, however, we can organise things different, depending on our own unique talents and configurations, rather than forcing them all into a one-size-fits-all hierarchy.

I think we’ll look back at this period of attempting to define ’employability’ skills as wholly misguided and almost laughable. What we need is a way of showing difference between people in a way sympathetic to their skills and inclinations, not forcing them all to demonstrate subservience to a cultural norm.

Related: Increasing your ‘serendipity surface’

Image via Nomad Pictures