Balancing Education and Work Experience

by Sharlyn Lauby on March 22, 2012

I wrote a post some time ago about the purpose of a college degree. You can check it out here. Someone recentlycareer, career development, education, experience, degree, college commented on the post – it’s a great comment and deserves some attention, so I wanted to resurrect the conversation. When it comes to the relationship between education and experience, there are several things to consider:

A college degree needs to be relevant. Jobs that require a degree need to have a valid, job-related reason for requiring a college degree or any kind of specific education.

Sometimes experience trumps education. Please notice that I said sometimes. I believe the school called Corporate America can teach us lessons a university classroom never will. And that’s because the world is constantly changing.

College degrees can enhance our work experience. Even when a person has 5, 10, 15+ years of real-world experience, going back to school has value. Knowing the theory and being able to apply it in the trenches can increase our marketability.

Degree majors can be flexible. I might get some pushback on this one but I don’t know that it’s essential to major in the exact topic of your job. There are several majors that are applicable to a wide spectrum of careers. For example, I can see majors like accounting, finance, management, English writing, etc. being skills every business person needs to know.

Corporate training can bridge skills gaps. There are topics that lend themselves well to workplace learning. For example, leadership, performance management, and employee coaching. Creating opportunities to learn the theory and immediately apply it on the job can have an instant impact.

Lifelong learning is the norm. Professionals who stop reading, learning, attending conferences, etc. run a real risk in today’s business world of falling behind. And I’d contend that it’s not enough just to stay up-to-date with your profession – we have to stay current with general business and the industry we’re in.

I believe there are many ways to gain knowledge and experience. When organizations design and create jobs, both of these factors should be taken into consideration. Obtaining a college degree, or any kind of post high school education for that matter, is expensive and time consuming. Let’s make sure the skills being required of employees are relevant and valuable.

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Chip @ Home Remodeling March 22, 2012 at 4:37 pm

In today’s economy, flexible degrees are the only way to get started unless you have an absolute niche focus. If you want to be a cabinet installer, learn how to install cabinets, done. If you want to be a carpenter, then learn everything about building from architecture to material refinery if you really want to be an expert. Point is, don’t limit yourself on one set thing if you are not sure. Give yourself options and give yourself more to offer than just one skill.

magnet mailers March 22, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Interesting! The Comment you linked to talks about requiring a degree for a job already performed without one. Except for certain professions with very defined requirements (like nursing) this probably is a bad idea for most employers. It would limit options for employers unnecessarily.

Having a degree does help show that someone has passed through a certain, useful set of wickets: being admitted, working within an academic structure, learning how to ask questions, research problems and formulate answers, endure pressures including tests and deadlines, develop a common vocabulary, etc. Although some K-12 programs provide these skills, most do not.

As an employer, I look at the degree listed on the resume as just one of the tools in the toolbox. I consider where the degree is from, and what subject it’s in. It’s more important to me to know how challenging the degree was, than how relevant the degree is.

Our world today is vast and complex. As an employer, I want people to draw upon a broad palette of skills and knowledge to think of innovative ideas and productive solutions.

Employers who would rather think more narrowly are simply limiting their future.
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Sharlyn Lauby March 23, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Thanks for sharing your POV. I believe there are many ways to get both education and experience. As you’ve mentioned, flexibility and keeping an open mind are key.

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