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Why "I am NOT a VOLCANO!"

Why "I am NOT a VOLCANO!"
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"In all of living, have much fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured." — Gordon B. Hinckley
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Monday, January 2, 2012

Touchy Topic Tuesday- Education vs Trade. Is a degree SO important?

Touchy Topic Tuesday
Education vs Trade: Is a degree SO important?

Months ago, I engaged in a facebook conversation about education now-a-days, how expensive it is, how those going to school now will spend the rest of their lives paying it off, and how sad it is that, despite it's impossibility to afford, it's so necessary that even a person with a physical TRADE skill can't get a job without it. 

I had intended to write this as today's Touchy Topic anyway, but, in googling the subject of Trade Skills vs. Education for blog fodder, I came across an article that encompasses EVERYTHING I intended to say about the education part anyway, and I feel the need to share it. 

"Education in America- Read the Fine Print talks about education being almost entirely out of reach for American middle class people, based on it's astronomical cost, and the problems that exist inside the educational system anyway- the things they AREN'T teaching, that we SHOULD be getting in order to be successful in THE WORLD.

On top of all that, I have further ideas to explore.

Back in the 80's, when I was raised, I recall multiple television shows and movies that continually made fun of college. Why would anyone go to college? It was a ludicrous idea to many people- at that time, Trade schools were booming, and people were learning valuable skills using hands-on techniques. Artisans. Those who worked in bakeries, who built buildings- stone masons, electricians, carpenters, contractors, and so on, people who built instruments, roads and many other things, were finding great opportunities and were widely respected.

By the time I graduated from high school, an explicit value was placed on college education. Well, SOME college education. A couple of years, maybe an associates degree or so was admired and hireable. Now, a decade later, there is so much value placed on education, that a person simply can't be hired without the maximum amount. Bachelors degree? Not good enough.

It's something that my husband and I have battled since we got married. I was 22 when we tied the knot, and I went to school for 3 years, goofed off a bit, and escaped with an Associates degree. My husband, at the time, didn't have a degree, but had his associates degree by the time he joined the United States Air Force a year after we got married. He was 23, and he was behind because of the two years he spent serving an LDS mission in Kingston, Jamaica.

The military promised free education, and was the main draw for us to join. What we didn't know was that they would leave him ZERO time to actually take classes. It wasn't until our 3rd year of active duty that he was able to enroll.

Upon our separation from the military, Brandon found it infinitely difficult to find a job. Due to his training and type of job WITH the military, he met all qualifications for jobs in leadership experience, working with hazardous materials, and so on. Most of the time, he exceeded the requirements. What he didn't have was a Bachelors degree. He spent two more years, under employed, working days going to school at night, and recently received his Bachelors degree.

We thought it would be easier for him to get hired now that he HAS the BS, AND two more years of experience. In two years, the requirements have jumped to a Masters, and requires even more experience. Disappointed, my husband has set his sights higher- to an MBA with an emphasis on advertising. Two more years and we should be set, right? Like, what are they going to do next? Add another degree? Triple the experience required? It's the end of the line.

Often, it feels like that light at the end of the tunnel is really just a train.

This isn't the first experience I've witnessed, though. My dad is a drywall contractor. He has been my whole life and throughout my childhood, he made an excellent living. He is actually quite the artist. My dad is a perfectionist, and what he does is always good work. On top of that, he can do anything. And that's not just a little girl goo-goo eyed for her perfect daddy. He really can. Tile, plumbing, welding, heat/air, appliances, carpet, remodeling, electronics- anything. You name it, he can do it, and he can do it, and well. Any engine hums happily after a visit to my dad. Yeah- he can fix your car too.

My dad has near FORTY YEARS of experience under his capable belt.

Just after I started college, my dad's company, where he was partner for over 20 years, paid employees, made an excellent, trusted name for himself, went out of business. He has struggled, since, to provide for my family- marrying off two girls and a son, paying for my brother's mission, and my youngest brother's diabetes, which happened right in the midst of his company going under.

Now, my dad is the best handyman West Jordan has EVER seen. He gets work by word of mouth, and does pretty decently. But he can't get licensed as a professional contractor the way he once was, nor can he be hired with another contracting company. Know why? Education. He doesn't have any.

My dad never went to college. After high school, my dad spent years as an apprentice, learning a TRADE.

Education for him is so expensive, and- get this- he makes too much money to qualify for government grants and student loans! Nevermind that he makes less money than my underemployed husband does. Nevermind that he has dependent children. It's so far out of his reach that it's hopeless to even try. And it becomes a vicious cycle.

Ivory Homes, a pretty big-time building company here in Utah- one my dad actually worked for before the creation of his business, Venture West, in his younger days, won't hire him, despite his excellent resume (he built most of the western Salt Lake Valley) and vast experience. The problem? Once again, the issue is my dad's lack of a degree. They would rather hire some 25 year old kid who spent the last 6 years sitting in a desk, getting his masters, who doesn't know a bazooka from a knife (don't worry, they're drywall tools), than they would my dad- who has no degree...but obviously knows what he's doing. I mean, if this were Hell's Kitchen, my dad would win.

Heck, even home owners are getting picky about it all- they, too, would rather hire someone based on college education as opposed to experience and referral- since that's all the business my dad gets is word of mouth.

Now, this isn't just all about me and it's not, by any means, a pity party. We're all happy, and we're on our feet, and we're making it just fine. But I know there are others out there. In the first job Brandon worked when we moved out here to Utah after the military, he met more than a handful of welders and carpenters and electricians who are in the same boat as my dad.

And we come back to the question: Is it REALLY that necessary in ALL cases? A surgeon? You bet, if I am about be operated on, I want to know that my doctor spent hours in classrooms learning all about my body and it's organs and functions so that, when he gets in there, knows how to fix it and put it back. A teacher? Uh, yeah. I want to know that the person who is teaching a subject to ME has actually spent time studying the subject. But some of these hands on jobs, these artisan trades, are only perfected through experiencing them. Through labor and apprenticeship. It doesn't matter how many years you spend in a desk, reading a book, doing math problems...there's a huge difference in knowing, in theory, how to weld a pipe, than there is in doing it.

I am not by any means disparaging education. I actually find education VERY important. I expect all my children to go to college and get degrees that will help them support their families and give them satisfactory lifestyles. I don't think, at all, that some education could hurt my dad, and as absolutely brilliant as he is, he'd do very well with it. But, considering what he knows about his trade- and believe me, that's inside and out- he wouldn't use a lick of his education, really. At least not anything that he doesn't already know.  And it's getting more and more expensive every year. Kids fresh out of high school can't afford it now, how can a person of middle-age or beyond afford to go back to school when there is so much resting on their shoulders? And what the heck is wrong with people and businesses who can't recognize when education matters less than skill?


What do you think? How do you feel about the cost of a decent, University level education these days? How do you feel about skill vs. degree? Do you feel that there is a time and a place, or is it really absolutely necessary for every person to have a high education? Are you or someone you know stuck in this same predicament?  Let us know!!!

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LULObird said...

i am absolutely an advocate of education. i always believed you needed it ...but, i went to school and got my 4 year degree and i can't make a living wage with it; i can't even find a job with it! i now sell on etsy and you know what? my views have changed. i still want my children to be educated, it's an experience everyone SHOULD be able to experience at an affordable (or free - at least for the first couple years) rate. i think you can't say it won't enrich your life, but i can say it's no longer a guarantee of making you rich, or even able to pay your rent. but i also think to choose not to go to school and strike it out on your own requires A LOT of determination. that's the school of hardwork, so people must be prepared for that if they make that choice. what i tell my older son to go to school to make money (doctor, lawyer, engineer). to find a career trade where he can always be financially secure, then, do whatever in the heck he wants but at least he won't get stuck like so many from our generation have who believed if you went to college you would be set. because that's just not the way the cookie crumbles!

I'm NOT a VOLCANO! said...

That's a huge problem too, though, Lulo- Lawyers are now graduating top of their classes from elite colleges and they're not getting hired, so even they are stuck. Also, the topic is about skill- TRADE- which is physical labor. Lawyer, as a job, requires MUCH education. A person building a road's quality lies more in his/her experience and know how than in books and money spent on years of classes.

SillyCreatures said...

I deeply respect artisans and people who know about their trade, like your dad. But I think in some fields, like you said, education is necessary. I think the question is not education or no education but, why does education need to be so expensive? (somebody is making a lot of profit on it)

LULObird said...


trust me i know that lawyers is not a "trade" and requires extensive education. i was just saying that my advice to my son is to get an higher-education trade where the job market has a more profitable outcome as well as available opportunities.

my example of "skilled trade" was that i am educated and now living off of a skill trade, even though i have a four-year degree. but with that i have had to work even harder in many aspect. saying, yes i think that not going to school can work for some people, many millionaires never went to college, but they worked really, really hard and had to be extremely self-motivated.

in the end i am still an advocate for education and want my children to be educated because i don't think it's only about making money in the end. but with that i also think making wise choices in what you study is even more important these days, so you can pay back your loans and make ends meet.

i agree with the previous poster that making education affordable is what we really need to focus on for future generations.

Bathroom Remodeling said...

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*Jess* said...

Its been my experience that many careers require a degree just so you can prove to your employer that you can complete a 4 year degree... the degree and education do not matter. My husband's company, for example, doesn't even care what your degree is in... they want you clueless so they can train you to work for their specific company. But you can't get hired or get promoted without a degree. Why are we paying so much for the degree if its not helping us?

I am one of 5 kids. I am the only one who has a college degree. I am a stay-at-home mom who is STILL paying off her loans. My three brothers, no degrees, have each started their own business and are succeeding just fine. My sister is currently in college, but quickly realizing that a degree is not going to help her in her current job.

Its crazy.

Army of Moms said...

America was built by people who created jobs not by people who "looked" for jobs. I think that more people need to become entrepreneurs and create the future.

Bill Gates, Michael Del, and Brad Pitt are all college drop outs...HmMM

momto8 said...

this is a hot topic! we discuss this at dinner...I know education is the best way out of poverty! hmm..interesting post. i am your newest follower..pls follow back if you can!

Kristina said...

This is a touchy/tricky subject and can be approached from so many different angles! As an experienced high school teacher, I don't believe everyone is suited to going to University (college), yet they are often strongly pushed in those directions - I've taught students who've struggled through school and have later become successful (and happy!) in a trade of their choice - I think this is a really good example of someone who doesn't need a degree, but highly values practical training instead.

This is probably not a great answer to the questions you're posing, but I like that people are thinking about issues like this.

Thanks for sharing,
Kristina :)

Grace Pamer said...

I cannot deny the value of education but sometimes, I am also skeptic about the over reliance on a college education. There are so many courses taught and at the end of the day, it is disappointing to discover that they actually have nothing to do with many jobs on the market. To simply assess people based on college experience is crazy. Vocational experience tops college everytime so in your Dads case I would hire him everytime and would have thought the majority would also. Word of mouth skilled tradesman are the best kind after all.

I do believe college is a great 'finishing school' if you like, a place for young minds to develop into fully formed adults, explore new ideas and make decisions for themselves. But still the overreliance on them for everything is crazy especially given the crippling debts. Personally I would not wish to go back to college now and that is saying something. Sure if the money could be found as I love learning but the whole cost of the enterprise now far exceeds the benefits. Better to strike out on your own and start your own business if possible.

Excellent debate as ever

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