Can you ever have too much education? (part 3)

Separate career paths for grads and learning from simple jobs

Can you ever have too much education? (part 3)
Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

Over the last couple of weeks, I have attempted to answer the question of whether a person can ever have too much education. I have covered several aspects of this issue, but the immediate inspiration for this series of posts was an article from the U.K.-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) by Chris Adcock exploring the issue of university graduates doing so-called non-graduate jobs.

While I did touch on this issue last week, I wanted to discuss the topic a little further. I also think it’s interesting how employers, candidates and society in general take a slightly different perspective on this issue in different countries.

Separate career paths for university grads and others

Campus recruitment and intake programs for recent grads are quite common here in Canada, and job descriptions and postings generally specify the level of education required for certain jobs. However, I don’t believe separating an organization’s career paths for university graduates and other employees is generally something we do here in Canada.

In the U.K., “graduates” usually refers to those who attended university, and it’s common for employers there to have fast-track graduate employment schemes for recent grads – particularly those with a certain classification of degree.

While the above article and other anecdotal evidence show things may be changing somewhat in the U.K., there are still some vestiges of the idea that university grads are “elite” candidates – particularly those from highly ranked institutions with top academic results. Part of this relates to the class system, which isn’t nearly as strong here in Canada.

Let’s face it, having a degree in Canada isn’t considered that big a deal. High degree completion rates and a well-developed and successful community college system mean Canada has the highest rate of postsecondary education in OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries.

Because of that, we probably have a fairly high proportion of the workforce that’s overeducated for the jobs they currently do. I also don’t want to be too critical of the U.K. system because they also have some innovative programs for non-graduates such as apprenticeships even for white collar office jobs (as opposed to having them only for skilled trades). It’s even possible to become a lawyer in the U.K. without completing a university degree.

Some of those programs were developed in response to challenges faced by many working class people who didn’t see university as an option. Despite some changes in recent years, British universities have traditionally been dominated by the upper middle and even upper classes.

Our situation here in Canada is quite different, but I think we could learn from things like expanded apprenticeship programs and non-graduate entry schemes, which seem to be more highly developed in the U.K. With tuition fees increasing faster than inflation, perhaps we should be developing more paths into white collar, managerial and professional jobs for those who are unable to attend university due to socioeconomic factors?

Some employers have relaxed their degree requirements, but that’s just a start.

Graduates paying their dues

With some exceptions, university was never meant to be trade school and is more about expanding one’s knowledge of the world. While education can sometimes allow people to climb the ladder faster or skip extremely junior entry level positions, I still believe graduates should spend some time paying their dues.

Sometimes, as an educated and ambitious person it’s possible to see the bigger picture even in a simple job and learn things others might not pick up on.

One of my first jobs after university was packing calendars and greeting cards for a wholesale distribution company. Shortly after starting in the job, a vacancy came up in the office and I got a job doing invoicing and reception, followed by stints in accounts receivable and customer service.

While these were my first office jobs, they were still nothing glamourous or too complex. Yet, my time with that organization was a great opportunity to learn about business operations and strategy from a holistic perspective.

Those jobs touched on a lot of aspects of the business, and I think my education, curiosity and ambition helped me learn from those roles. There’s no shame in honest work, and people would be surprised how much they can learn even from a relatively simple job if they approach it with curiosity and a desire to learn.

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