Everywhere we go, we hear the message that to get ahead in life, we need to have a formal education. The more formal education we receive, the more we will excel in our professional careers. Unfortunately, this has become true in many industries that once allowed you to start a career and enter a new profession, regardless of your formal education.
With the costs of higher education spiraling out of control, many young adults are now finding that advanced education is not an option. The good news is that pursuing formal education is not the only thing that can get you ahead in a career.
Industries Weren't Always Education-Dependent
When visiting Springfield, IL on a business trip, I had the opportunity to visit the Lincoln Library and Museum. During my visit, I was reminded that President Lincoln had been a lawyer before becoming president. No surprise there. However, I was surprised to find that Lincoln had never attended a university and didn't have any type of formal "higher education."
Originally, many could enter the legal system without a formal education. Today, secondary education is so accessible it is commonly assumed that higher education is absolutely necessary for licensure. However, originally, the system utilized apprenticeships and other benchmarks that were much less costly than our educational system today. And even today, there are still some states where higher education is not necessary for licensure. (Consult an attorney for details - I am not a lawyer and don't want to be).
The Industry-Education Structure
Many industries are now built around the higher education structure. Yet, why is it that so many who have a formal higher education actually end up in a career that isn't directly related to their specific degree?
A TED speaker recently address the problem of the North American educational system: It was specifically designed to place workers into manufacturing plants. The skills they learned in college were consistent with the skills needed in the manufacturing world. In short, the speaker argued that this educational system limits creativity, something not generally needed for the majority of laborers in the manufacturing world. This consistent, stable, and non-creative approach, however, does not work well in an innovative environment, or even in a changing environment.
Entrepreneurs and Education
I have often heard entrepreneurs say that they learned far more on their own business ventures than they ever could have learned in the classroom.
As our educational system in North America is based on a platform of creating excellent manufacturing workers, higher education can actually be counterproductive for those wishing to work as an entrepreneur, or even just work in a truly innovative company. Just like a manufacturing plant produces products that all look the same, our educational system also produces many workers that behave very similarly.
The challenge is that entrepreneurship requires creativity, but this is not something our educational systems tend to cultivate. This is also why premium content is so popular today.
Technical Chops vs Real Skills
Excelling in a career takes more than technical chops. It takes skillful communication, diplomacy, and even sales. Basically, if you can't get along with your colleagues or bosses, you will find it difficult to progress into a leadership position.
Recently I was discussing career advancement with a colleague over lunch. I explained that I had been fortunate enough to be able to complete my MBA before we had our last two children. My colleague explained that he and his wife had chosen to have six children, and with that choice, his family became the priority.
He explained that he could have gone back to school if he wanted to, but felt that it was more important for him to be at home on his time away from work. Then he looked at me and said: "Having six kids was my MBA."
His point is well taken. While I am thankful for my graduate degree, I fully understand that the reason I was able to move up in my career was not due to my education. It was a result of my hard work and dedication in getting along and collaborating with my colleagues. Far too often, I have personally observed that educated people with great technical chops don't get promoted because they can't get along with others.
Ways to Get Ahead Without Education
Here are some practical "self development" tips you can apply to get ahead, regardless of your education background
- Get Along. If you have the ability to get along and work with those around you, you will be one step further in getting ahead. Degree or not, if you are hard to work with, you will find it challenging to get ahead.
- Resolve Disputes. Once you master the skill of getting along in the workplace, you will soon discover that not everyone values this skill. If you can help others get along and resolve conflicts among peers without involving your superiors, this talent will be noticed and appreciated.
- Relate to Others. There is no quicker way to gain trust and respect from someone than to sincerely desire to get to know them, and to support them.
- Become an Expert. Formal education rarely prepares one for the technical skills needed in a specific business. When you can master your job function, you can become a "go-to" person for your colleagues. This allows you to lead from where you are at.
- Be Creative. While creativity isn't always valued in certain industries and positions (think regulatory compliance), being creative for process improvement, efficiencies, and effectiveness can have a major impact on the bottom line.
Do you feel that it would be more advantageous for an entrepreneur to have a formal eduction before starting a business?