Friday, August 04, 2006

The Working Life: Education and the Workplace
The Radio Show Recap...

In this segment of The Working Life, Carol Blymire and I discuss the importance of education for our professional lives. Education, training and professional development are clearly essential ingredients for success in today’s workplace and our educational choices have never been greater. In this segment we explored some options, opportunities, and trends that are happening in the world of continuing education.

Carol’s Question: Can you talk a little bit about education, and what employers are looking for? Is it still a high school diploma, followed by four years of college, and then an MBA or other graduate degree depending upon your specialty?

My thoughts: Clearly the type of education one needs depends upon the employer, the profession, and the industry. Think of employment as a continuum—ranging from less specialized/lower skilled jobs—where a high school education is required to other end of the spectrum of highly specialized skilled jobs—where advanced degrees are required. So if you are seeking to be successful in business or other traditional “white collar” jobs—then, yes, a college degree is pretty much mandatory for even the most entry level jobs. And yes, in some cases, holding an advanced degree is becoming the norm as well.

Getting ahead with only a high school diploma is more difficult in today’s highly competitive global market. Besides being a basic requirement for many jobs, completing a college degree offers many benefits:
  • College graduates earn nearly twice as much as high school graduates
  • College graduates hold higher level positions than high school graduates
  • College graduates advance faster in organizations
  • College will develop your skills in analysis, reflection, synthesis, and communication
  • College provides an enormous opportunity for personal growth and development—such as networking, meeting new people, experiencing diversity, etc. All these experiences and skills will give you a competitive advantage in today’s workplace.

Carol’s Question: Are there advantages to getting a few years of work experience after college before pursuing a graduate-level degree?

My thoughts: Yes, I’m actually a big fan of getting some real work experience under your belt before jumping on the graduate school bandwagon. Here are my 3 big reasons for working first:
  1. Praxis.
  2. Your education will be a lot more meaningful to you and your employer if you can apply your education to real world experiences. We call it praxis. Praxis is the “practical application or exercise of a branch of learning.” There is a big difference between theory and reality and anyone who has ever tried to “book learn” their way through a contentious management team decision can tell you that real world experience often trumps theory. Plus, people don't really respect the MBA who has never worked a day in his/her life—seriously–people respect experience and results.
  3. Good Fit.
  4. Secondly, unless you are absolutely SURE this is your profession of choice, I’d recommend waiting and working a few years to assure that you really like this field. Graduate School requires an enormous expenditure of time and money—two very precious resources for most of us—so I’d want to be sure that this field is actually something I am passionate about. Many college graduates jump into graduate school as a way a finding themselves (or as a way of avoiding the working world!). This is a costly and risky proposition. Let’s face it, we all know plenty of unhappy lawyers… so relax, take some time to figure out if this is really the profession for you.
  5. Financial Help.
  6. And finally, if finances are an issue, working a few years will provide you with some options. Many employers have tuition assistance programs. Most full-time professionals I know who are continuing their education receive some sort of assistance from their employers—financial or otherwise.

Carol’s Question: Is classroom education or training better than seeking out one-on-one mentoring or training? What are the benefits or advantages of those options?

My thoughts: It isn’t a matter of better—it is a matter of accurately identifying your professional development needs and finding the most of effective manner of fulfilling them. Classroom education/training and one-on-one mentoring are both important aspects to professional development. Always remember: you should get the education for the job you want and not just the job you have. If you want to manage and guide your career—I’d have a plan for both. Each approach has particular benefits.

Education/training Benefits:
  • Good sound objective information based on theory, research, data, etc.
  • Often incorporates “best practice” ideas from industry as a whole
  • Can provide diversity of learning--multiple theories, opinions, etc of issues/challenges—providing you with a larger picture
  • Often done in groups—expands your networks, contacts, etc.
  • Opportunity to develop more specific communication skills—i.e. writing, debating, summarizing, defending, etc.
  • Confers upon you an “official” degree, certificate, license, etc. You have a stamp of approval…

One-on-one mentoring/training Benefits:
  • Deep insider information on how things really work
  • Ability to learn from the wisdom of someone else’s successes and failures—access to their personal best practices (which took them years to hone and create)
  • Provides you with narrow but deep picture of the professional terrain
  • Development of intimate and close bonds with people who are more senior than you—providing you will allies and friends at the top
  • Access to the network of your mentor

Carol’s Question:
Are companies willing to pay for or reimburse educational opportunities completely unrelated to their field of business, (e.g., cooking classes, foreign language skills, creative writing, etc.) as an employee benefit or perk to boost morale or reward strong performance?

My thoughts: A few really progressive companies may do this out of a desire to create and promote healthy, creative employees. But it is certainly not the norm. Those that do would be doing so as a “perk” or as a way of creating a more holistic work environment dedicated to creating healthy work/life balances. I suspect we will be seeing more of this in the coming years as employers all compete to become “employers of choice.” And here’s the thing—it never hurts to ask! If you can make a case for why studying Thai cooking will make you a better accountant—then go for it! Remember, like anything related to getting what you want at work—you need to make a sound business case.

Carol’s Question: Are there any kinds of education or training opportunities out there that are emerging trends? What’s new in this field?

My thoughts: Well clearly, E-Learning—and the whole electronic component of education and training is the biggest (and most exciting) trend out there. As our technologies continue to improve we are going to see more and more companies, universities, students and training companies moving into the e-learning realm. And as society get more and more comfortable with the idea of on-line education, it will become an even larger part of our educational process. Electronic learning is amazingly cost effective for organizations looking to train large numbers of employees. Whenever my company is hired to do training, the client almost always inquires about an electronic component. This didn’t happen 5 years ago!

Some interesting facts about E-Learning:
  • Close to 3 million students are taking classes on-line at institutes of higher education
  • This number grows at 25% per year
  • Almost 100% of public institutions and private-for-profit institutions of Higher Ed offer on-line classes
  • About 50% of private, not-for profit schools offer on-line classes
  • Over 40% of universities who offer f2f (face-to-face) graduate programs offer on-line programs
  • Majority of academic leaders agree that online education is critical to their long-term strategy
  • Majority of academic leaders believe that online education is already equal to or superior to their face-to-face offerings.

My Closing Thoughts: Continuing your education and learning new things is not only good for your career—but for your mental health! Research shows that the more we use our brain cels the less we are likely to lose them! So keep learning and growing.

To listen to an archive of this show:

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