The Best of Both Worlds

Plumber or mechanic with certificate, qualification or other scroll and wrench. Education concept for being professionally qualified or certificated.

The Best of Both Worlds

We’ve seen statistical evidence (link, link) that students can no longer muster enough income for college by merely making minimum wage. To that end I have suggested by and large employment in the “results economy” as opposed to the more predictable but less lucrative “time and effort economy.” (link, link, link). But this option often fails to inspire students, who see self employment as a crapshoot. What of the student who wants a regular, steady paycheck and schedule while in college?

Students who seek standard fare jobs often fail to find well-paying jobs by virtue of their qualifications, or lack thereof. The types of jobs students get tend to involve the sorts of employment most anyone can plug into. The college student seeking work entertains a classic dilemma: we seek a college degree to obtain higher wages but need higher wages to obtain a college degree.

Fortunately, not all good paying jobs require a sheepskin on the wall. Perhaps you’ve heard, but skilled laborers and tradesmen of all sorts tend to make higher wages than the typical high school graduate, and in many cases, more than the average college graduate. Certified/apprenticed/unionized welders, plumbers, fitters, draftsmen, hygienists, licensed practical nurses (LPNs), tailors, bookkeepers, electricians, gunsmiths, law enforcement personnel, referees, etc, etc can command professional wages on the merits of an associates’ level education or less. As well, trade qualification tends to be relatively cheap, and in some cases students can earn money while pursuing it.

The problem is that such careers have been sold almost exclusively as an either/or alternative to college. But the smart student may want to see them as a viable, strategic complement to college. Often times I have met with a student to conclude he has no viable way to make it through a four-year education on the basis of his assets, awards, and projected job income. However, if the same student would but take a year or two off in pursuit of a skilled trade and then go to college the realm of opportunities expands considerably.

For this reason I would advise any student to consider delaying college to first attain specialized training, certifications, or a JuCo degree. Then once in college they will be more qualified for different types of work than the typical student. Doing so could yield some serious benefits:

  • One can then attend a four year school with the very real prospect of making enough part time and summer income to afford the experience.
  • Such professional-level jobs may be more overall desirable in terms of environment, competition, and hours than what the student would otherwise get.
  • The student’s work experience could provide real-world application to lessons learned in school.
  • Surrounded by adult co-workers, the student would gain and keep a more realistic perspective of the world than if one only interacted with students at all times.
  • Earning certifications before attending school would relieve a lot of the college and major choice pressures high school seniors face, allowing space for career research and job shadowing, while still progressing toward educational goals.
  • In certain cases, the student might find “professional adult” employment at the school, and this can often come with the benefit of discounted or free tuition.
  • After school, the student would have a fall-back or transition alternative to their degree-related career. Many, many students suffer early unemployment. Already having a secondary career path would prevent working for low wages as a burger flipper or barista until the stars aligned for your “real job.”
  • Students may find their “unrelated” degree has quite a bit off applicability in their field of skilled certification. For instance, my old utility construction boss constantly sought out accountants but few bean counters understood the ins and outs of contracting. One that did would have had incredible job security and influence.

The main objection I get to this suggestion is the extra time certification would require.  Acquiring the proper training might add a year or two to a person’s graduation plans. But keep in mind the fact that a minority of college students actually graduate in four years, and that dropouts happen largely for financial reasons, and decide accordingly.

Out of all the advice I’ve given based on my 20/20 hindsight, this one tip is the one I would most actively pursue given the chance to go back in time and do it all over again. Instead of working as a minimum wage grunt keeping the campus weeds at bay I could have found much more autonomous, respected, available, and beneficial jobs both during school and after graduation. Quite likely I would have also been a more mature student, more locked in on a proper major, and would have transitioned out of college into the full workforce more readily.

So if you’re suffering confusion about college or don’t have the means to pay for it without crippling debt I urge you to consider firstly acquiring specialized job training. In doing so you’ll enjoy the best of both worlds a few years in as you work toward and obtain two types of qualifications.