Why is Education So Important?

In a technological society where jobs and careers are attached to pieces of paper distributed to deserving people by college administrators, that question seems like a no-brainer. Even today when you have to go to China or Mexico to find a job (many times with no benefits, low pay, difficult hours, and often unsafe working conditions) there are still plenty of service type jobs (store clerk, maid service, fast food service, delivery services) that require little to no formal education as long as you can follow directions, learn on the job, and don’t mind years at minimum wage. Even these jobs often require at least a high school diploma or GED, but since they have a high turn-over rate, you may at least have job security.  (By “formal” education, we mean a college diploma, degree or certificate). Be aware, however, that your opportunities to improve your life style will be severely limited, and years later, when you retire, your Social Security check—if such a thing still exists—will be so small that you will have to rely on your kids or on charity to help support you.

The question for the average person is probably asked with a rather different train of thought. Why, if a person can perform his or her job as needed, are there thousands of websites urging people to take some sort of online education? Who needs it? Let’s answer that question with a true story.

James (not his real name) is an engineer—specifically a machine designer—with a very well-known tire manufacturing company. His machines are the industry standard around the world for two tire building companies, and he can name at least 7 states, a couple Canadian provinces, and several European countries where his machines have been installed, then modified—usually with his help—to build various kinds of tires. He has taken advantage of every on the job opportunity to learn the company’s new methods of design and, consequently, is one of only two men in that particular American plant who knows how to use the most recent, highly complex, but preferred software. Money has been approved for new machine design projects several years into the future—and he was supposed to be the senior engineer on the projects.

The operative word in this story is “was.” Since people aren't buying cars, they aren't buying tires, and since banks aren't parting with their money, major companies have no access to short term loans they would have used to invest in new projects. Thus, after 28 years of work for one company, James is out of work with no idea of where he will turn for a new job. But he is an engineer, so…some other company should have work for him, right? Ah, that’s where the education issue comes in. James was hired years ago when this company first started in the US; at that time, the company only cared that he knew design engineering and could create machines that would do what they wanted. The man is brilliant, creative, and learns quickly in any new situation; but he was hired before he could complete the actual college degree. In other words, he is recognized as a design engineer with his company, but never completed the BSME (Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.)  His company didn't care as they knew his abilities and the on-the-job education (including numerous certificates) that he had acquired. But everyone else does care. Regardless of his abilities, job after job in today’s desperation market requires a “minimum” BSME. In his state, there are 40 unemployed engineers for every available job. Employers can take their pick and easily find people with both experience AND the required degree. Furthermore, even if a person doesn't have the experience, the degree will take precedence.

This very real illustration is not limited to engineers. Even in a booming economy, today’s employers look at the degree first because we live in an “information” age where most industrial labor is outsourced to reduce labor costs and the employees on the home front are highly educated paper pushers and marketing gurus.

Nor is the emphasis on education limited to industry. In the highly needy areas such as health care and education, those with the highest degrees often get the highest pay and the first opportunities to both keep their jobs in a downturn and earn promotions in good times. The once highly regarded RN, for example, now plays second fiddle to one who has a BSN or Master of Science in Nursing Administration. Teachers, in nearly any public school system, start at a significantly higher pay if they enter the field with a Master’s or Doctoral degree already listed in their resumes. The extra degree might not guarantee that you will perform any better than someone with just equivalent experience, but such is the expectation of the entire civilized world, and it isn't going to change any time soon.

Are you like James, and never had the degree, and never expected to need it? It’s never too late; education today is as much a tool of defense as it is knowledge acquisition. You can use our handy resources to locate exactly the type of education that will be useful to your situation. Furthermore, you can do so without leaving your job, and often with the help of your employer. Get started today.

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