Saturday, September 10, 2011

Moving beyond education

Can a university degree guarantee financial security? A re-look at the correlation between financial security and education.

A recent popular article at The Economist prompted me to write this entry. The article bluntly says "A university degree no longer guarantees financial security". It gives the following two arguments:
1. Improvements in technology and the evolution of computers have reduced the demand in mid-level jobs
2. Jobs in medicine, law, academia that earlier guaranteed a secure future no longer continue to do so.

Their point of view is correct to a certain extent. My opinion of the current educated class is no different from the popular view - "They are following a herd". And this herd is slowly being destroyed through a simple demand-supply mismatch. When the herd gets more than what is required many have to be culled or left behind. Recession and the dip following it have fomented this reduction of requirement. With growth in number of universities, the competitive edge that education could give you no longer holds. You need something extra to make it big, if at all you are looking to do so. This X-factor cannot be given by education. Thus we'll move on to the next thing - Extra curricular activities. They have given students an edge in seeking employment and still continue to do so. But as time has progressed effort spent on these "X-TRA" curricular activities is giving diminishing returns since more and more people are indulging in them. That means even to get an edge through extra-curricular activities, a student needs to excel in them. All for what? A goddamn job!
The first 20-25 years are spent just getting that job. And still as reported by Economist it does not guarantee financial security. The things you miss out during the prime of your life are another important aspect. Moreover this education leaves mostly leaves you with a debt.
Do I have the answer? I don't really know because I am like you caught in the same maze. But I have 5 suggestions that might give you an edge. It's a thought. How you execute it is entirely up to you.
1. Being Indispensable :  Figure out the kind of jobs or skills that others in your environment don't have. Look at them, see the kind of job they outsource. If you learn that skill/job and let them know about it, they will come to you. As they'll keep on coming they will become dependent on you for that job. This makes you powerful (Expert power).
2. Taking beyond where they've left it : Can take your project a step ahead. All projects have a goal and once it is reached, they are generally left. Can you take that project a level further?
3. Take a look at the trash : Most successful people took abandoned projects/ideas and reworked on them. Can you do it?
4. Experiment with experiences : Doing something crazy gives you a new experience. Few have felt it. A trip to the mountains may not directly help you in making the career but the experience makes you learn things beyond what education can give. Its a risky proposition since its tangibility is low. But then it is a sign to the world that you can take risks. This sets you apart from the risk averse herd.
5. Be an employer : Why not create jobs rather than  looking for one. If there are so many being culled from the herd, they are cheap skilled labour for you. Start your own business and hire them.
It is important to see yourself as a brand especially if your top priority is getting a job. Job market is tough and its climb made harder by recession. If you can establish a distinct identity and cut through the clutter, money and fame will follow.