Tuesday, September 02, 2014

BROWN: Expertise, not degree matters most

By LINDA BROWN, Hold Me up a Little Longer, Lord | 5/22/2013

I never thought I’d see the day, but I actually agree with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — he of the no over-sized sodas and no salt — who set about dispensing career advice last week during his weekly radio show.

His message? Most high school graduates should learn a trade and skip college.

I never thought I’d see the day, but I actually agree with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — he of the no over-sized sodas and no salt — who set about dispensing career advice last week during his weekly radio show.

His message? Most high school graduates should learn a trade and skip college.

I know it’s a little difficult to take the billionaire seriously because there is such a financial disconnect between him and the average newly graduated college student who is trying to figure out how to make a living and pay back student loans without going bankrupt.

The actual average guesstimate on student loan debt is all over the map. Some estimate a student’s loans are $40,000 when he or she graduates. Those going to more elite or private universities often are pushing close to $100,000. To a man of Mayor Bloomberg’s means, that’s pocket change, however, he has a valid point.

To me, it was a bad day for all of us when corporate America jumped on the bandwagon with academia and decided there wouldn’t be any jobs for those without a college degree. It turned half the country into snobs and the other half into browbeaten individuals who feared if they didn’t comply their lives would be doomed to second-class citizenry.

Those with the power to hire and fire became elitists who wouldn’t look at the resume of anyone with less than a 4.0 GPA. The rest of America became weighted down by a mountain of student loan debt and no job prospects on the horizon.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never asked to see my plumber’s college diploma. I don’t care if he can spell or write a complete sentence. I prefer he has enough math skills to properly figure my bill, but I’m willing to get the calculator and help him if necessary.

What I value in him is his skill — a proficiency that I don’t have. I simply want him to fix, refit, install or improve the plumbing in my home.

Chances are, he learned his skill at a trade or vocational school, but he could have learned his valuable vocation from his dad or granddad. Frankly, I don’t care; I’m just glad he learned it because I never did.

The same is true of the electrician I call, or the house painter, the roofer, the gardener, the hairdresser, the manicurist, the auto mechanic, the seamstress and the guys who bless me by removing the trash once a week.

Last I knew, all of those things have little or no chance of being outsourced or computerized, at least not during my lifetime, so there’s lots of job security, which isn’t always easy to find in today’s job market.

And not everyone is cut out for four more years of schooling. Not everyone finds school a hoot or dreams of becoming a rocket scientist or finding the cure for cancer.

College simply isn’t one-size-fits-all choice, nor should it be crammed down high school graduates’ throats. Certainly, if the family has the money, the student has the luxury of doing whatever he or she wants. But if the financial stability isn’t there, exploring a vocational career should be supported and encouraged. And those who want to explore higher education shouldn’t be put in a position where they are forced into a menacing financial state to do so.

Our three children have accumulated a double master’s degree, an associate’s degree and a GED. They all earn more annually than their dad and me. No one was pressured or shamed or ridiculed. They were loved and supported in their decisions and offered the meager financial assistance we could provide.

Career choices shouldn’t be about brow beatings and fear tactics. They should be about what’s going to make the person happy to see another work day begin.

Linda Brown is marketing director for The Ottawa Herald. Email her at lbrown@ottawaherald.com

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