I love to learn new things, and have a variety of interests across the board. I have a personal library in excess of 5,000 books, spanning almost every genre, style and type of writing in existence. Even better, I have incredible retention, and can remember most of what I read, see or hear. I learn extremely fast, and can master new concepts and skills in a fraction of the time it takes the average person to do the same. I’m a certified genius, and a member of Mensa.
You would think, with a basket of knowledge and skills like that, that finding a top paying job in a cutting edge field would be easy. Alas, it is not so.
You see, despite my knowledge, skills and experience, I’m missing one thing that businesses everywhere seem to think of as predominantly important. A little piece of paper certifying that I have spent 4 or more years of my life “learning”, and have likely accrued a massive amount of debt that will take years to pay off. I’ve attended some college, but I have no degree.
Now I realize that’s a bit of a dramatization, but in essence it is exactly right. We are taught, from a relatively early age, that education is vitally important. I believe that. Education IS important. But there is a vast difference between education and formal education. What we are taught is that formal education is the more important of the two, and that is absolutely false. Knowledge and skill are important, and are more readily gained through practical experience than from a classroom setting.
We are also taught that if we want to amount to anything in life, a college degree is a must, and a graduate degree is ideal. What you don’t hear is that getting a degree does not mean you will get a great paying job, or any job for that matter, especially in an economy like ours. The average college student who attains a 4-year degree will leave school with debt in the high five or low six figures. A graduate or doctoral degree could put that figure in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not the best way to start your professional life.
I’ve looked at hundreds of job postings over the past few years, both looking for jobs and learning to write postings, and one of the things I have seen most often is this: BA or BS Required, Graduate Degree Preferred. Many of those postings didn’t mention a specific degree, and if they did, it was usually a choice of 3-5 degree fields. On occasion I would see something to the effect of “Degree Required – Field of Study Unimportant”. They just wanted you to have a degree for the sake of having one.
Statistically speaking, by the time you graduate from college, you will retain only 10% of what you’ve learned (can’t remember the source for this one, but I’ve heard it more than once.) Neurologically speaking, you’ll retain information that you use on a regular basis, so practical experience in your chosen field would thus be more valuable than formal education in the same field. That doesn’t speak well of our education system.
As a business owner, I can tell you without hesitation that I would rather hire someone with no degree and 2 years of relevant experience than someone with a degree and no relevant experience. Now granted, having both would be nice, but a degree is not a reflection of knowledge or ability, whereas experience and success in a given field is a direct reflection of both.
I believe that passing over a potential job candidate simply because they have no degree is absolutely criminal, and should be considered a form of discrimination no different than race, age, sex, or any other factor that may be outside of the job applicants control. Not everyone can afford the time or the money for college. I certainly couldn’t! But that didn’t stop me from gaining both the knowledge and experience necessary to go head-to-head with college graduates and come out on top.
Now granted, there are certainly professions where formal education might be necessary, such as medicine, architecture, or perhaps law, but even then not always. There are numerous instances of individuals who have passed the bar exam without any formal legal education. The truth is that proficiency is more important than the amount of time spent studying, or the method by which that proficiency was gained (remember, college credit can be gained by testing out 🙂 ).
The adage “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” is a load of crap. Just because something works does not mean it is the best way of doing things. If that were the case all progress would have come to a sudden stop. The truth is that people stick to traditions because they are complacent, and afraid of change. We tend to like our comfort zones.
Our current educational system is at the heart of the problem. Far too often the professors are antiquated individuals teaching antiquated ideas simply because that is what they were taught, and that is how they did things.
A former co-worker of mine told me that he took an Internet marketing class last semester, and that the woman teaching it was teaching information 5 years out of date, focusing on blogging and email marketing instead of Twitter, Yelp or Facebook.
For a company to choose someone with that quality of education over someone with practical, current experience is just plain wrong.
If your company is seeking an employee, I strongly encourage you to think outside the box. Companies spend so much time defining length of experience and type of education on their job postings, that they forget what they are really looking for. When a company asks for a degree and work experience, what they are really asking for is someone who can do the job well. I encourage companies to look at what a job candidate has achieved, and what they know, as opposed to where they went to school or for how long.
Try asking pointed questions. Present a job candidate with a problem that your company has faced, and see what they would recommend. You might be shocked to hear them come up with the very solution your team of well educated “experts” spent hours coming up with. Spend time exploring their Facebook page, their blog, their Twitter feed, and see just what they know and who they are.
Perhaps blind adherence to tradition is what is holding your company back. Remember, some of the wealthiest and most successful people in the business world never completed college (Bill Gates, John D. Rockefeller Sr., Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, and more). Some never even finished high school!
Some say the act of getting a degree shows fortitude and persistence, and that that is the real value of a degree. Personally, I think someone who works two jobs to support their family shows far more fortitude and persistence than someone who can afford the time and money for a formal education.
To employers, I say this: Formal education is not a measure of knowledge, skill or ability, and should never be treated as such.
To employees: Stop being sheep! If you have a dream, make it a reality. If nobody seems to recognize your worth, start your own business and show it (I did 🙂 )! Nothing is impossible.