Monday, June 21, 2010

Exchanging Higher Education…for a Trade

As I’ve been writing on higher education, I’ve mentioned the sudden flood of articles on the subject – a great many of them now questioning the value and worth of getting a college degree.

So it is no surprise that I encountered this article last week from the Washington Post – More College-Educated Jump Tracks To Become Skilled Manual Laborers. The title speaks for itself, but it contains a good summation near the opening – “They started out studying aerospace engineering, creative writing and urban planning. But somewhere on the path to accumulating academic credentials, they decided that working with their hands sounded more pleasant -- and lucrative -- than a lot of white-collar work. So bye-bye to term papers and graduate theses, and hello to apprenticeships to become plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics and carpenters.”

For many, this may sound like going backward in time. After all, we’ve been taught that our ancestors worked long and hard in the fields, or in a blacksmith shop, or at some other difficult physical labor so that we, their descendants, could enjoy the increased fruits and pleasures of a white-collar job. We’ve been taught that today’s white-collar business structure is an “evolution” along the career timeline – that we somehow deserve to earn six-figure salaries in the comfort of air-conditioned high-rises, while somewhere there are people doing the “dirty work”.

But here are some observations that I’ve made along the way:

1) There are jobs that still need two strong hands to accomplish – plumbing, wiring houses, building cabinets – some things cannot be replaced by automation or spreadsheets.

2) These “manual labor” jobs can still pay the bills for any average family with the wisdom to stay out of debt and forego a life of unnecessary trappings.

3) A job such as an electrician is usually a local job – fathers don’t often have to travel on business – that is a HUGE advantage to the core family.

4) White collar jobs, like being a middle-level manager or an engineer or a software programmer, seem to be growing more and more unstable. There is not nearly as much job security in these careers as there once was. But even when people are out of work, plumbing still breaks, and so do automobiles…

5) A person is much more likely to end up owning their own business through a trade than they are working in the vertically-integrated white-collar world today.

6) There is a great deal of satisfaction to be had in creating or repairing something with your own two hands.

Each of these items could elicit a great deal of discussion, but let me focus only on the second point for now. Our society (not unlike many societies before ours) places a great deal of emphasis on wealth. But the Bible is very clear – material wealth can draw us away from God. Solomon attests to this in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and Jesus told us this very thing in Matthew 19:24 – “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

As was pointed out to me recently, our culture now worships at the altar of higher education – not at the altar of the Almighty God. That’s something for me to keep in mind as I get ready to send my children out into the world. And when considering my own future career.


Back to the Thoughts On Higher Education series

1 comment:

Miranda Rat said...

I agree 110%. Amen amen amen! Yet on an emotional level, you could not pay me to go away from my little brother for 4 years of his teenage life. I would miss his highschool sports "career", watching him become a young man and leader, and all the fun times. There are three other people in my family that you could not pay me to leave for an "education". But I especially think of the time I would miss with this young man that I love so much.

Life is too short.

I very much appreciate your higher education posts.