Saturday, April 02, 2005

The purpose of school - Part III

Read Part I
Read Part II

Last week for the first time I watched "The Apprentice" (yes, I got a TV...more on that in a later post). I'm kinda digging this show! I got interested in it when I read Donald Trump's two latest books. Not only is The Apprentice about what I do for a living - project management - but this season it also pits college-educated people against those who went to school only through high school. This is a favorite subject of mine.

I did not go to college. I remember my dad telling me in high school that if I really wanted to go to college there were ways to work to make that happen. But him giving me money for it was not one of them. He was a divorced father raising four children on a modest salary. I never had a strong desire to go to college, nor did I have any idea what I wanted to do for a living. So I took my Chicago public high school typing skills and got a job downtown as a secretary. That was 27 years ago.

Since that first secretarial job, I have worked with a lot of people who went to college and a lot who didn't. I've worked with college graduates who could not operate a copier (after extensive training) and with high school graduates who reached the top of their organizations.

Don't get me wrong. College is a good thing. If you have the means to pay and the desire to learn, you should go and work hard and absorb every nugget of knowledge you can get for your tuition dollar. But if you do, keep in mind a few things:

1. The working world is generally kinder to college graduates, but you still have to do the work! Your degree is not a free pass to business success. You may not have to start at the very bottom, but you still have to prove yourself at every level in order to advance.

2. The college professors who have not been in the working world may act like they know it all, but how could they? Unless they have been out there practicing what they teach, all they have are book smarts. If you can find a professor who has actually worked in the field they are teaching, that's the one you will learn the most from.

3. What you think you want to do for a living now may change after you've got that degree in hand. That's OK. You will not have wasted all that money. At the very least, you learned how to work hard and the degree has value no matter what you end up doing.

Whether you go to college or not, learning never stops. When you get a new job, learn everything there is to know about the company and your position. Do your job well, and ask for more work. Show up on time, treat your employers and co-workers with respect, and put a little extra in everything you do. Or a lot extra. That's what gets you noticed and you will be the first one who comes to the boss's mind when there is an opportunity to advance.

Had I known all this when I first started, I would be a lot farther than I am. But that's OK. I love my job, and I'm loving school. I'm in a project management certificate program and got an "A" in my first class! I will never be one of those super-successful, high-profile, entrepreneurial-type project managers (Donald Trump works much too hard for my taste). But I will always be one of the best employees a company could ever have!

The purpose of school is to prepare you for life and work - with both practical knowledge and social skills. Our country's educational system may not be the best it could be, but it's what we have and it's there for you. Take everything you can from it.

You will be out of school sooner than you think (it only seems like it takes forever). Before you know it you'll be at your ten year high school reunion!

Hang in there!