The Desk

June 20, 2010

Stretching Standards

Today is Father’s Day. Today would also be my father’s 84th birthday. I like to remember him on this day with an article or blog post that contains nuggets of information to help guide us in our recruiting, management, and career endeavors. Today is no exception.

Born in 1926, Dad started life in the first third of the Great Depression on a farm in Louisiana. It was a different time then, governed by a world that was going through a metamorphosis. It was squeezing out of the Agrarian Age and making a more formal step into the Industrial Age. But farming was still the staple of the land and the thing that allowed us to survive.

Education, to be certain, was very important. But the crops were the means of not only paying the bills and maintaining the family but also the means of using our raw skills to maintain everything. Each person and farm was an industry to itself.

Everyone on the land needed some knowledge and ability to use, maintain, and repair everything used around the land. Animal husbandry was an essential knowledge. Understanding the habits and idiosyncrasies of each animal provided clues on where the skills of that particular creature were going to fit best.

Since handling the chores on the farm took a front seat to everything else, completing one’s formal education was important but not as important as just surviving the times. By the time he and Mom married, Dad had a fifth grade education.

Although not much, that less than elementary school education it was good enough for the government to draft Dad for WWII. He was smart, clever, and ethical. Once he and Mom were established, they both went back to school to earn their high school diplomas and then even more studies in some areas of college work. Both of them progressed very well because they went the extra mile with regard to stretching their horizons with more education. They became more qualified for the work they did.

As I said, times were different then. It was not uncommon for the bank president to have only a high school education and 50 years later boast to members of the Chamber of Commerce Board that he (emphasis on the “he”) was a self-made man, meaning he learned and earned his position through experience on the job. Those were his only credentials. For a long time, that was a very honorable boast to be able to make. By the 1950s, having a high school diploma set the job applicant apart from others because they had formal school training and education.

Enter the 1960s. World War II and Korean War vets with their brides were starting to get established and were raising families. Although it was a stretch, they found ways to put aside small amounts of the weekly household budget in order to save for a college education for the children so that they would have a brighter future. A college education would mean they were more qualified than their competition for the better paying jobs that were now quite plentiful.

We weren’t watching and the Industrial Age evolved into the Electronic Age and then the Technology and Internet Age. As with the ever-changing nature of things, there comes a higher threshold in order to be considered average and adequate. Specializations meant there was a flood of people rushing to be part of the new age of specialists and gain the extra high paying positions for having the more specialized knowledge, skill, and training, in addition to the comprehension of how all of it fit together. Thus new levels of education and certification became requirements for the new entry-level positions. Advanced education became even more important.

Today we are again enduring an economic depression, one that I still prefer to call the New Millennium Depression. It’s been with us for nearly as long as its predecessor from a century ago. Given that this one is global in nature and that what we used to consider Third World Countries are now competing with us in terms of technology and refined information, the need for specialization is increased again. That means advanced degrees that prove we’ve obtained more refined knowledge about how to think, use strategy, and apply our skills is of even higher importance. The high school diploma is a mere stepping stone for showing we have discipline.

Will there come a time when nearly everyone will need to have a Ph.D. in order to qualify for the most menial of jobs? I doubt it. For one thing, the cost of such an endeavor is prohibitive. The necessity to gain experience in order to build on the training is mandatory. And we’ll essentially get back to the driving dynamics of the Great Depression — the need to cover costs and sustain our selves and our families will mean we’ll have to put off advanced education until things are better under control.

However, going to school these days is no longer the five mile walk in the driving snow from yesteryear. Now gaining an education as well as an advanced education has options. It can be done in the company of our peers of many chronological ages as well as backgrounds and home countries. On the other hand, we can bypass the traditional and gain our education through online schooling.

Either way we do it, we are stretching our standards for gaining education and the rewards of that extra effort — better pay for more responsibilities and a position closer to the helm.

Yvonne LaRose, CAC

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