Friday, January 11, 2013

Do your kids really need college?

Generally speaking, college is a good idea for just about everyone. It serves as a first step into the real world that many high school students simply aren’t prepared for. What if college simply isn’t the right path for your teen, though? Do you simply throw up your hands in exasperation and proclaim them a failure? Hardly. It’s unfortunate in our society that there is the overwhelming sense that a life lived without a college degree is a life wasted. What is seldom taken into consideration is that today’s colleges are essentially businesses that must make a “profit” (even if they are not-for-profit institutions) in order to pay salaries, pay for campus improvements, security, technology, and a host of other expenses. How is this done? By increasing enrollment, of course! That means pushing the idea that young adults cannot be successful without a college or other advanced degree.

This has led to a major problem in today’s society, but one that is a major advantage to those who have the foresight to take advantage of the situation, is the relative lack of skilled tradespeople. Since there has been such a push toward college education and white-collar jobs in the United States, blue-collar skilled professionals are becoming hard to come by. In fact, with the impending mass retirement of the baby boomers, many companies are having an incredibly hard time filling high-wage, high-skilled, non-supervisory jobs such as machinists, electricians and plumbers, and as such are having to seek help from recruiters and temp agencies in filling these positions. Unfortunately, the loss of these highly skilled workers can often mean that production capacity is diminished, quality of merchandise becomes sketchy, and at worst case, the work is outsourced, sometimes overseas.

So let’s say for a moment that your kids just don’t seem to be college material. Maybe they prefer working and playing with their hands in physical activities rather than dealing with supervising others or doing research-oriented work. The fact is, if your kids aren’t interested in supervision, engineering, teaching or the sciences, they may actually do well to skip college and look for on - the - job training in an industrial setting or working in the field in which they feel the strongest pull for.

For an example, let’s say two high school graduates want to enter into culinary careers. Student “A” listens to the guidance councilors and plunks down $20,000 for a culinary degree at a reputable cooking school somewhere in the United States. They teach the student everything they need to know, and when the student graduates, they are fully prepared to enter the workforce and might get lucky enough to be hired into an assistant position from which they can learn the little on - the- job tricks that will lead them to the top one day.

Student “B” on the other hand, skips the college route. At the same time that student “A” is buying their books and figuring out where their dorm room is at, student “B” obtains a job washing dishes at a popular local restaurant, making it clear to the interviewer that they intend to one day attain the position of head chef, and then over the course of the next two years, does everything they can to learn what the chef, sous chef and other assistants have to teach. At about the same time, both students will have garnered about the same level of knowledge with one notable exception: Student “B” has already proven themselves in the kitchen, has been helpful, and may have already made enough of an impression that they are allowed to run the grill during non-peak hours in addition to dishwashing duties. When student “A” interviews, let’s say at the same restaurant, the hiring manager will see a culinary degree but no experience. On the other hand, with student “B,” they’ll see a proven track record, experience, and a willingness to learn and start at the bottom, working their way to the top. If it were you, who would you hire? 

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