Working hard or hardly working?

 I’m the only one in my immediate family that has earned the so called “holy grail” of education; a college degree. From what I recall during my public school years, the mantra was to get good grades, get into a good University, graduate (with those good grades again), and land that big job!

Guidance counselors and parents pushed the agenda to the point where some students stressed themselves out so much that they simply gave up. I was close to being one of those victims of the “system”, but somehow survived to earn that “sheepskin”. Between basketball, beer and co-eds, it really is a miracle that I can call myself a “college grad”, as if that means anything today.

Not to knock education, but lets be honest here, what do most learn in college? How to wash your own clothes, make grilled cheese sandwiches, and where the girls are on a Thursday night, right? Unless medical school was your major, most of my friends took the easiest classes and did just enough to get by until spring break. For those lucky enough to have parents paying the tab, college life could be quite nice. A few classes in the morning followed by lunch in the cafeteria, a nap, then perhaps a little studying after a trip to the gym, bar or “frat house”.

I was not in that “class” as a combination of student loans and part-time jobs enabled me to play professional student on the 7 year plan. Yet when I finally reached the stage where I was of age to shake hands with the Dean, I certainly was not the best of students. I was lucky to even graduate, let alone to acquire any marketable “mad skills” that might translate into a tangible career. Believe me as I was not the exception to the rule…

After bouncing from one major to another, sociology to psychology, finally settling on “recreation resource management”, what I learned was secondary to what I earned. A piece of paper from the “college of education”, with little confirmation as to what would be my vocation.

Sales of course awaited me on the other side of college, coupled with a stock market crash in the Fall of 1987. Yet somehow I managed to talk my way into a position with a major medical device company and made a very nice living for a decade or so selling doctors and hospitals on all the things I learned in college. I’m not quite sure how the classes I took prepared me for the work force, but if I had to do it over again I’d have focused on learning something that could pay the bills; like acquiring a real skill!

As the cost of attending college nears the price range of a mansion on the beach, the demand for “skilled labor” increases in proportion. Many students are graduating with degrees that may qualify them for pontificating the policies of “climate change” or socialism in third world countries, but has little value to the “free market”…

Critical thinking seems is another “skill” that seems to have been lost in the world of academia, as studies indicate college students just don’t have the ability to separate fact from fiction. Ideology and political stereotypes seem to dominate thought, rather than empirical research or historical evidence. Not a coincidence as the majority of college professors lean way “left” and Universities do their best to promote “liberalism”.

Perhaps my favorite “poster child” for the fallacy of the college degree in this “new economy”  is Mike Rowe. From his high school days he recalls the “Work smart not Hard” college recruitment campaign and a poster on his guidance counselors wall that said it all;


Problem with this really poor advice, is that the jobs just aren’t there for good ole “college Joe”(and Jane, to be politically correct). A visit to my Alma Mater a few years ago was revealing, as almost every restaurant was staffed by the graduates and not just current students. Evidence is everywhere as the “Smart” applicants cant find work outside of the service industry.

Yet, the gap widens between demand for skilled labor and those trained in the trades.  Student loan debt and living back home with the parents in the new routine it seems, as I guess it’s just not “cool” to be  a plumber these days. A generation of educated and under-employed Americans are walking around in a daze, with very few tangible skills on their resume. It took me years to identify what my “skills” might be, and how to make a living from what I can do is often still a challenge.

My advice to any young person would be to find a specialty, or develop a specific skill you might already possess, something that’s in demand. As the small business owner continues to get crushed by taxation, and regulation, finding work will become even harder. You better have a skill set to sell, and you better do it well, or as millions of Americans will tell, you wont be working hard, you’ll be hardly working…