Having a good education is important in our society, especially at this time in history. Having a good liberal arts education is also important, and is much undervalued. Going to good schools is important when you first enter some job markets and for some special industries like medicine and law, and some business and tech careers. But in reality, educating yourself and developing skills is really what counts most.
The ongoing development of skills is critical. Many young people entering the job market today will have 15 or more different jobs in their career and multiple career changes, i.e., new industries or skill areas. Let us just take a major career path like practicing law. Today, many people with law degrees will not just practice law in a law firm. They could also practice law a corporate setting, work in government doing policy analysis or diplomacy, or many other niches. Many of those that start to work for a Federal or State agency may run for office later or move into consulting. There are many paths an attorney might take. Learning new skills is an important way to increase your value, income, and flexibility in work.
For a different example, someone who learns to be an auto mechanic might think they will work on combustion engines for a lifetime, but that is unlikely as the auto industry is changing. The mechanic might need to know about hydraulics, learn electrical engineering to work on new vehicle batteries, or learn about repairing suspension systems for driverless vehicles. As technology advances, as the Internet makes the world smaller, as companies use robots more, and as the nature of work changes dramatically as compared to previous years in history, we have to assume that jobs/careers are going to become more flexible and transitory.
So, does education matter a lot or a little? I think the basics still apply. Going to a good college or technical school, or learning a trade is important and will pay off very well over time. If you can get that education before you become responsible for children, mortgages, and a long-term partner, it would go a long way toward getting your career off to a healthy start. Once you are trained and employed, my rule is to keep educating yourself and advancing your career with continuing education or skills training. I’d suggest that every year you add a new skill and, once developed, seek out opportunities to use that new skill at work. If you keep adding new skills and developing more and more aspects of your career—even changing directions entirely—it will pay off in your career. It won’t work on its own, though.
Having a good command of language—writing, communications, social skills, emotional intelligence—is proving to be more and more of a critical feature in career success. But, while we’re all expected to know how to use certain technology, learning new skills above and beyond he job description (technological skills included) is still the most important thing you can do to enhance your career.
At seventy years of age, I am learning to podcast, write blogs, use grammar tools online, and how to market my services, all in the interest of allowing me to augment my retirement in the next few years and moving into an online presence to continue my work without a separate office. Just keep risking is the name of the game. The more planned risk you take, the better your career options, and the most critical thing to risk is the up-front cost of developing new and/or augmented skills. Keep growing and your chosen career path will recognize your actions and reward your additional training and development.
I am a big advocate for education and training in those contexts, but am also the first to point out that not everyone needs a four-year degree. Adding skills via some form of training or continuing education is what we all need to do in this technological age to keep up and advance. Develop a new skill each year and make sure your boss and friends at work know that you are seeking opportunities to demonstrate that new skill.