“The Ark was built by amateurs, the Titanic by professionals”

A frequent challenge to my work with clients re-entering the job market is confidence. Otherwise skilled, even expert in their field, I am met with: “But I don’t have a degree”.

Sir Ken Robinson, renowned educator, education policy advisor and author, describes college degrees as currency.

A university education was once a guarantee of a job.  Why?  Because a relative few attained the distinction.  Greater numbers now achieve graduate and post graduate degrees.  Few would question the benefit.  Even fewer would discourage their own children from pursuing one.

This “over supplied” currency is, nonetheless, devalued.   A degree is no longer a guarantee of work.  Perhaps not a bad thing.  Education, like the pursuit of any skill set, is just a process.

Let’s learn to value skill, not the degree, as currency.noah's ark2

Proven results are the only measure of value. Nearly every banker, regulator and complicit government official responsible for the recent economic meltdown had a degree.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were college dropouts.  They are admired as “self made” men. After the fact.  Let’s choose to suspend judgment before the fact; no one needs a degree to excel.

Employability needs to be the currency of the 21st Century.  What has greater value: employability or a degree?

Education often happens “at home”.  Do we devalue second language fluency because it was learned there?

Computers, smart phones, games and medical devices are now an integral part of our lives.  More importantly they drive our economy.

They are run by a language.  We think of it as complicated.  It is not.  Fluency and proficiency in this coded, binary language can be achieved by 6 & 8 year olds.  They learn to think, develop and create in that language.

Their computer ceases to be a time trap of numbing games.  It becomes the canvas on which they can create their own game (or hack the one they are playing to win).

These skills can be self taught.   Apprenticeships in this field are simply trial and error. They rely on a community of peers, on and offline.  There is a vast shortage of programmers and developers on this island and worldwide.  There are lucrative jobs to be filled.

Self taught fluency or competency is not limited to programming or web design. Leadership, sales, logistics – these are all skills learned “on the job” by experienced workers who started employment and rose through the ranks.  No degree.

Collectively a community needs skilled joiners, plumbers and electricians to build our homes, farmers to see that we are fed, and merchants to procure the goods we require. Most learned from masters and mentors, formally or informally apprenticed.

Physicians “practice” medicine.  Their skills are developed after their studies, in training best described as apprenticeships.

The artists, artisans, musicians and writers who enrich our lives are judged simply by their work product.  It is the only measure of success.  Their distinction is  excellence.

titanicMy point about the Titanic?

Simply that the loss of so many lives was owed to the judgment of experts that “enough” lifeboats would be redundant.  Her sinking was owed to a series of failures by the professionals into whose hands she was delivered.

What do we honour 100 years later about the ship herself? To quote the locals, descendants of the skilled tradesman who built her well and to spec:

 “She was fine when she left here”