Rethinking Career Education

Jim Roberts, CEO/Founder
September, 4, 2019 -

I grew up in a family environment where we were absolutely expected to go to college--no questions asked. I am sure there are many of you who can relate. It was college or college–and, I had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life.

My story is probably not too different from many others. I started out going to Community College thinking I wanted to be a Commercial Artist. Being that it was the sixties, it seemed like a really cool thing to do--you know, the “Peter Max” influence. While completing my “required classes,” I had to take a Sociology-Social Problems class which required that I do a practicum for one semester. That experience completely changed the trajectory of my career path. I have an AA in Art, BA in Sociology and an MBA. Who would have predicted this course--not me, It just happened that way!

Higher education worked for me, but I firmly believe that attending college should not be the default post high school activity. I think this is especially true for so many young people, like I once was, who have no idea what they really want to do. I think that our education system needs to start focusing on aptitude and personal interest, while emphasizing career planning instead of just “going to college.” I like what they do in Europe. A career path is chosen, and then a plan of how to get there is created. It may include two-year college, four-year college, graduate school, or vocational education, training or certification and possibly even apprenticeships. Seriously, it is about getting a job, not just a degree!

I think the data about attending college speaks for itself. The Institute of Educational Statistics asserts that about 40% of four-year college attendees drop out before completing a degree. Of the remaining students, 65% take five or six years to complete a degree. According to Career Builders, 47% of college graduates do not find their first job within their field of study, and a high percentage of first jobs--43%--did not even require a degree! A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that only 27% of college graduates work within a field even related to their degree.

Add to this discussion, the whole student loan debt issue. Second only to mortgage debt, national student loan debt right now is around $1.52 trillion--that is staggering! The average student loan debt total per person is $31,172, and the average monthly payment graduates pay on their student loans is around $393. These loans generally run from 10 to 30 years. I have employees who have been paying on their student loans for well over 10 years! This is certainly doable if you are in a high income industry, but most people are not!

Let us do some comparisons with those young people who choose to pursue specific career training through a vocational school or two-year college. The average cost for a four-year degree is $127,000, $33,000 for a trade school and $13,000 for a two-year college certification. More important, let’s look at income averages. After 10 years, the average income for someone with a one-year technical skill certification is $53,940. For someone with a two-year technical degree or certification, the average income is $54,1461. For folks with a four-year degree, the average salary is $55,2871. There isn’t a lot of variance between the three, is there? Now factor in the student loan debt and the one and two-year programs come out ahead financially.

There are plenty of other reasons why choosing vocational or job-specific training is advantageous besides the fact that it costs less and requires a shorter time commitment. First, job placement is almost guaranteed. There are far more job openings for people with specific skills than there are for college graduates. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is a severe worker shortage in many high-paying technical jobs, and there’s a growing domestic demand for high-precision skills. According to Forbes, skilled trade workers are disproportionately of the older population, and will only continue to get older, creating increased opportunities for young workers to fill their shoes.

Second, people with specific vocational or technical skills are 70% more likely to remain in that line of work for their entire life. And by and large, technical jobs are not deported or outsourced overseas, creating much more job stability and contentment!

Finally, there is a misperception that technical jobs do not have the earning power of jobs requiring an advanced degree--this is just not true in today’s job market. There are dozens and dozens of positions that do not require a four-year degree that have the earning potential of well over $100,000 a year. Airline pilots, web developers, computer programmers, law enforcement, human resource management, medical related positions, sound engineering, property management, real estate and so many more jobs that easily paying triple digit salaries. The sad thing is, our young people are not being taught this.

I love to give the example of our youngest son when talking about earning potential. When he graduated from high school, he hit the road as a touring musician, following his heart, and basically going through the school of “hardknocks.” Along the way, he honed his skills in graphic arts, web development and design. Today, he is the Senior Art Director for a News Corp company, making more annual income than our entire family combined!

So what is my point? Am I minimizing the value of attending college? Absolutely not! What I am saying, however, is that it is high time we take earning a college degree off a false pedestal, promoting it as the only road to success. We need to start educating our young people about CAREERS, not degrees

It is absolutely time to rethink our approach to Career Education. We need to help our young people choose careers, not colleges. Once a Career has been identified, then the path to achieve that Career can be clearly laid out. It may include college, vocational education or apprenticeships. And we need to remove the stigma of not attending college! Failing to do this is a disservice to our youth, but more importantly, promoting vocational opportunities provides a win-win for everyone!

If you want to help support a child and/or youth in achieving their academic goals, become a volunteer or mentor at Family Care Network today!