Education versus Experience, is there a clear winner?



In the throes of a busy summer, I repeatedly ask myself if the road I have chosen as a teach-it-yourselfer was the best way to get to where I am today. What is a teach-it-yourselfer? People who teach themselves the skills they need to progress in life. 

As I scrub the dirt off a canal boat bathroom floor, and realize that this is the worst toilet I have ever seen (gagging) I ask myself again, why did I not take the plunge and get a degree?

At the time, I had excuses. My parent’s split left us destitute without money to get me to college. I had to work to make money to help pay the bills. I needed a car before an education to get to work. Finally, when the money started to come in, I got another job so I could buy my first apartment, and then shortly after I bought my first house. I could not stop to educate myself and ended up learning as I went.

It was knowledge out of necessity I acquired. When I did not understand how to get from A – B, I asked the people around me that were smarter. When they did not know, I mimicked successful people in our community, I read books on how be successful…

Today the lesson learned, is that experience is not transferable to a foreign land. Still, am I far off from the best path to success?

I started to wonder if my method of learning was becoming mainstream. Of course, in my teens and twenties when I wanted to learn something I just signed up in my free time. When I wanted to learn to sail, kayak, and windsurf, I joined the Jericho Beach Sailing Club and took lessons. When I wanted to learn to write it was night school for college level courses. Anything else, I would go to the bookstore and found a self-help book to guide me through; How to make sushi, How to build a birdhouse, Basics 101 of sailing a catamaran, How to work out more efficiently, How to maintain your vehicle. My bookshelf grew.

Currently the Internet aids self-helpers like me to become a mainstream norm. You go online and find information at an alarming rate, and in any genre.  Any question my curiosity comes up with, I can find answers, and no more travelling to the store to wade through endless piles of books. With a tap on my trusty MACBook Pro I have access to endless amounts of information.

This week I checked out: How to build a website from scratch, How to clean up your iPhone, How to upgrade your wordpress applications program, How to make quiche, How to change your life in 20 easy and not so easy steps, How to grow a biointensive garden in France, How to become a better singer and unleash your inner diva, How to teach your kids at home without killing them, How to bribe your kids to stop fighting, How to wade through endless red tape in France, How to renovate a home in France, How to sell your house in France, How to teach English conversation, The best TESOL courses online… and the list goes on and on…

Some say that learning things ‘yourself’ takes more time, and that to learn is to watch and ask. In a perfect world perhaps, yet who’s got the time?

That brings me to the question of education. Is it still necessary to go to a college or university to get a degree?

Many positions plateau in a company when you get to a certain level, and you cannot move up without a degree. Even though I went into management, and managed all aspect of business: Profit and Loss, Stats, Ordering, Managing, Leadership, Human Resources, and Training; my experience was not enough to get me to the higher management level. When the opportunity presented itself for me to go back to college and get a degree, I weighed out the cost, time loss from work against my wage increase, and quickly realized it would not benefit me in the slightest, in fact it put me thousands of dollars behind.

When it is possible to bring up the course work and learn it for free online, is the need to check-out for four years truly necessary? Is it information we are gathering or is it a piece of paper that we require to progress in society?

In addition, what about all those university educated people who worked next to me at my union job for the past twenty years? Some had multiple degrees. They could not get jobs in their field of study and tempted by the money of union and trade jobs, the educated were hired. Did they do their jobs better because of those degrees? Debatable. I would say starting off in debt, knowing you are over-educated for your menial overpaid job could be depressing and harder to find job satisfaction, when you look over to someone debt free, and uneducated in the formal sense. Could make some angry even. 

In the past, it was believed, that intelligent children went to university to get a degree to enter the white-collar workforce, and less intelligent children would go into the trades. Back in my grandparent’s day, this of course was true. During those days university spots were scarce and expensive; it made it impractical for every child to go. They had to have exceptional grades. While the other children went to work to contribute to the household, a family would allow only their smartest child in their family to go to university.

In my father’s generation, there was a demand for tradesman, and families knowing it meant a secure job and a good income straight away, sought after these apprenticeships. In the 60’s my father, although very good in school, went to work after grade nine at the young age of fourteen to start his apprenticeship as a baker.

Let’s do the math. After a four year degree, the average accumulated debt accrued is $35,000, taking an average of ten years to pay back. This number seems low to me, as many of our friends had to pull money from credit cards to live while they went to school, and took out additional loans next to their student loans to make it through. Additionally, during that degree, some people had part-time jobs. 1 in 7 people quit university from the stress of trying to live and go to school. Seems like a high number, and you still have to pay back the debt.

A trade job offers a progressive pay increase while you apprentice. You never miss a day of pay. Unless you are certain your degree has a bright job at the end of your education, high school graduates need to consider what field they pursue. Without good information, many students may end up working outside their field.

Universities sell you a false hope, saying you will earn more in your lifetime, and start working at a higher level of pay. With BAs flooding the market, those days are behind us. There is a need for young adults to research their field of choice before entering university.

In addition, do not forget universities are in the business of selling education not giving it for free. If their classes are empty they do not make money, and like any business, that means no profits. Few schools are running programs thinking of the future of the country and not just their bank balance.

I understand that yes, some people go to university in their field of choice, get work and pay off their loans faster, however my experience is the opposite. While my coworkers paid off their student loans, I was paying off my first mortgage.

Experience versus education is a long time question in a time where a BA does not mean a better job, in a time where studies show an average of seven career changes in a lifetime; you will have to upgrade your education no matter what you choose.

Where one career feels great in our twenties, we shift our interests and head towards other careers that feel more satisfying later on. A career change can seem daunting with a young family however it can feel amazing in your forties or fifties. As we age, we draw towards new careers and change our place of work accordingly. Are we not all pursuing happiness after all? Well we should be!

I read an article from the author of the book “Traveling Two Roads in One Life.” That book is about building a multidimensional life, through the gathering of slashes (e.g. lawyer/writer/speaker/writing coach). I love this concept, and was tickled trying to come up with a title for myself; entrepreneur/writer/manager/mom/teacher/singer/

However, that brings me back to scrubbing crap off boat floors. Even with all the information leaning in the obvious direction, I cannot help but think I would have a better job at this very moment in time. The only difference would be at forty I would be dressing up in nice clothes, heading to work in my nice car, to an office somewhere in Vancouver and probably would never have made it to southern France. The roll with the punches, scrape your way to the top street smarts I learned along the way would simply not be there. On the other hand, maybe I would have moved here sooner. Who knows? 

In addition, starting to save when you are young puts you ahead of the game.The book The Wealthy Barber comes to mind, read at a young age, became my life concept. To pay yourself first.

I understand about families with money that pay for their children’s education and then concurrently their first house, which is all fine and dandy. If you have unlimited resources, then of course multiple degrees would be a fabulous way to go through life. But the average Joe that puts himself through school, working with no help from anyone else, does not have this luxury. Then, I must lean towards experience over education.


After reading this to Alfonz, he said, why not obtain some experience, then decide on which branch of education you want to pursue? This would give people a combination of experience and education, and students would have a much better idea of what they are inclined for as a career choice. And perhaps holding off a few years to work and then deciding what your degree should be in, would make for a whole bunch of happier people.

Just saying…

Before I take the plunge and start an online course to obtain my degree, What has your experience been in the workforce? Education versus experience… I want to hear from you.

In the discussion education versus degree
In the discussion education versus degree


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