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Can you ever have too much education? (part one)

Additional credentials may or may not be the answer
The job market is still incredibly competitive these days, and advanced education can be a real differentiator among candidates. Shutterstock/archana bhartia

By Brian Kreissl

I have made it fairly clear I’m a bit of an education geek. I often pore over university, college and professional association websites to determine what academic qualifications I need to further my career.

As I complete my bachelor of education (BEd) in adult education, I am increasingly asking myself “What’s next?” While I would highly recommend the program, I feel like something more is needed to move in the direction of learning and development.

Whether that additional education is one or two certificates, a master of education (MEd), a business degree of some type, a professional designation — or all of the above — there are still a few things I would like to learn more about in the area of learning and development. Those include instructional design, elearning, training needs analysis, coaching, organizational development and talent management.

Preferring experience over education

As mentioned before, in most situations, employers tend to prefer experience over education. While the preference is often to hire people with both relevant experience and education, in most cases employers would be more interested in a candidate with extensive experience over someone with an advanced degree in the subject and no experience (although I recognize there are exceptions such as licensed professions that require certain academic or professional qualifications).

At least two people have told me learning and development is a field where academic credentials matter more than other professions. That makes sense given it is all about knowledge and learning (despite most workplace learning being informal in nature).

However, in spite of being a lifelong learner, I’m starting to question whether fancy and expensive education and the pursuit of yet another degree is necessarily the answer. “Too much learning and not enough earning” was how one former colleague put it.

The fact is I already have two degrees (including a master’s), and I’m currently completing my third degree, along with having five certificates, several additional courses and a professional designation. Many people would argue I already have enough education, and I can see their point in many ways.

Acquiring knowledge and skills in other ways

I love learning and I believe strongly in formal education. However, studying part-time while working full-time is expensive, time-consuming and challenging.

School can really interfere with people’s work, social lives, family obligations, personal chores and even their physical and mental health. There were many times when I was quite resentful if I had an assignment or other school work and the people around me were doing fun and interesting things.

The truth is there are many ways to acquire knowledge and skills other than through formal education. Hands-on experience, massive open online courses (MOOCs), in-house training programs, books, articles, videos, webinars, e-learning, volunteer work, special projects and simply using software tools can be great ways to enhance one’s resumé and skills profile.

I also understand human capital theory and the idea of return on investment (ROI) when it comes to education. Someone once told me the value of advanced education decreases as we get older.

The truth is at my age there’s less opportunity for me to use that advanced education to get ahead, and I need to be wary of taking too long to finish my education at this point. I also need to think about the cost and ROI of additional education. Top MBA programs in particular just don’t seem worth the six-figure price tag.

While I don’t think it’s ever too late to pursue additional education or change one’s career, I do believe the cost, time commitment and ROI of specific programs become particularly important considerations after 40.

A competitive job market

On the other hand, the job market is still incredibly competitive these days, and advanced education can be a real differentiator among candidates. It used to be that having a degree in anything plus some relevant experience and coursework was sufficient preparation for a successful career, but now employers are becoming much more picky about requiring specific academic credentials.

I often feel quite envious of people with successful careers who have a BA and no additional education. Clearly education isn’t everything and there are jobs and professions where having too much education can count against candidates.

But some of that is changing, and I do see value for myself in gaining additional credentials, although education isn’t the be-all and end-all some people make it out to be.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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