Saturday, 23 January 2016

How important is a diploma or degree?

In world where parents stress the importance of career to their children I wonder if the methods or paths taken really lead their children to live happy and fulfilled lives.

I grew up at a time when expectations for girls were to get a job on leaving school then meet Mr Right, get married, have a family and keep a home. 

I am not saying this attitude was completely right or wrong. It was at a time when women could choose a career over housewifely duties but that choice was pretty much only available to the brighter ones who could compete with men for place at university and their parents had the money to support them. It was also not unusual for mothers to have jobs but they were often part time to fit in with family commitments.

We seem to have done a complete about face where today girls and boys are expected to think about their career; having a family along the way is fine because you can always make use of day care, grandparents, baby sitters or, if you can afford it, a nanny.

My question is how happy are those forced into choosing careers where a diploma or degree is required and why should those people be the ones seen as successful compared to those who don’t?

Let me give you some examples.

A friend of mine is a civil engineer, degreed of course. His father was a builder so I guess civil engineering was the next progression. What he got from his father was a passion for working and building with timber. He built his own home using trade skills rare today and realised this was what he wanted to; to build things, to work with timber. That’s what he did he ditched his civil engineering job and became a builder and happy doing what he was doing.

But there is more to his story. He also had a passion for trains with his model railway housed in a rebuilt slab hut. He enjoyed researching railway history and today he is a history resource manager and spends his days researching old railway photos. He couldn’t be happier – so much for his civil engineering degree.

Christine was a lady about my own age who became a volunteer at the information centre I managed. Our volunteers were mostly responsible for customer service and some were better than others. Some really tried your patience and regardless of how much training they were given just weren’t cut out to be serving customers; other jobs were found for them.

So Christine arrives and tells me she works part time on the front desk of the Bradman Museum. I knew the Manager there and that he had high standards so with some briefing on how, what , why and when put her straight on the front counter.

Christine had no qualifications at all and from memory left school at the end of year 10 but when I had a position to fill where the prime role was customer service I had no hesitation in offering the job to her. The Manager of Bradman forever reminded me I had stolen Christine from him.

Christine was a gem and the most patient person I knew. When a customer was being annoying she would smile her sweet smile and politely agree with them. She looked after the information centre a bit like a mother hen. She protected me and the other staff from unnecessary interruptions especially when there was an urgent job to be completed.

That was in 1992. If I was in the same position today, due to current local government requirements, I would have had to employ someone with at least a college certificate and I wonder if they would have been even a fraction as good as she was.

My last example is my own son, Clinton. I had recognised he was not the studious type and wondered what he would end up doing with his life. If he was passionate about something or was actively involved he would learn quickly. After a visit to a railway museum he became nuts about trains and one train in particular about which he read everything he could. That passed and cars were next. In later years his older step brother said Clint was like a walking encyclopaedia when it came to cars.

He would often come to the information centre with me and had opportunities to experience all the tourist attractions the area had to offer making him quite an expert and a useful customer service assistant when I worked weekends. One year we went to visit my father in Brisbane and I arranged the visit to coincide with a talk to the then Tourism NSW office there. The presentation was going well until I got to the railway museum part. Clint took over. It wasn’t planned but I could not have presented a more enthusiastic talk about the place. Years later I bumped into one of the staff at a conference who recalled the presentation and said they have never forgotten the railway museum part.

But all this wasn’t solving my son’s career options. His father and I agreed when he asked if he could leave school at the end of year 10.  We could not see him settling and putting in the effort needed for a higher education. He started work with his father as a labourer to the boilermakers and welders. He left and worked for a while as receptionist and office assistant at a vocational private college. He completed a Tourism Certificate part time but when the college folded and he went back to his father’s factory.

When he reached 18 he joined the local Rural Fire Service (a volunteer fire fighting organisation). He quickly learned the skills needed and I was told he was an excellent fire fighter.  I have never seen him so passionate about anything before.

After several attempts and hard work to get fit he became a retained firefighter with NSW Fire and Rescue. It is only part time but it is what he wants to do and hopefully one day he will achieve his dream of being a full time fire fighter. The important thing is that while his job with his Dad is not where he wants to be he is earning an income. This is balanced with doing a job, albeit part time, that he loves and having a loving and supportive wife. His Mum? I just couldn’t be more proud at what he has achieved.

Happiness in life if far more important than career status and the money it brings.