Lately, we’ve heard a lot about medical vaccinations that reduce our risk of bad outcomes from viral disease. But can we vaccinate ourselves against bad career outcomes? Government data suggests that we can. The secret is to maximize your level of education and technical training.
There are two general ways to do this:
- Get a university-level education, and
- Pursue technical training and certifications.
Students finishing high school during much of the 20th Century were given a choice—college or vocational training. As a student, you were either on a track for college and a profession, or you went to vocational/ technical school.
The 21st Century world is different. Now, there are a myriad of certifications in professional and technical subjects, in addition to college and graduate programs in many career fields. It’s common to graduate college and also acquire technical certifications. Workers with the most education and training are earning more than those with fewer credentials.
Learn more to earn more. The statistics are clear. Education is likely to improve your income and reduce the chances that you will be unemployed, as shown below:
|Educational attainment||Median usual weekly earnings||Unemployment rate|
|Some college, no degree||877||8.3|
|High school diploma, no college||781||9.0|
|Less than a high school diploma||619||11.7|
|Note: Data are for persons age 25 and over. Earnings are for full-time wage and salary workers. |
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey.
The Department of Labor said it best in their headline on the Web page—“education pays.” The unemployment rate for workers with doctorates was about 2.5% in April 2021. Workers without high school diplomas had an unemployment rate approaching 12%.
The difference in earnings between those with advanced degrees and those without high school diplomas was even more striking. Workers with advanced degrees earned more than three times the weekly wage than those without high school diplomas.
Of course, most of those in the workforce don’t have advanced degrees and are not high school dropouts. Those with bachelor’s degrees earned 167% more than workers with high school diplomas. Those with high school diplomas achieved a median income of $781 per week, while those with four-year college degrees earned a median income of $1305 per week. In other words, you do not need an advanced degree to reap the economic benefits of education.
The median income workers earn, then, is tied to their highest level of formal education. That does not mean you will land your dream job now or 10 years from now if you invest in a four year college or advanced degree. It does not even mean you will get the salary you feel you are worth, or the salary your college career office says you should earn. All the data means is that you are likely to earn more money with the best possible education.
Short-term skill training matters too.
When I began career advising more than 20 years ago, I told clients that their most important education was a college degree. Anything else seemed to have little credibility with employers.
Recently, a recruiter told me he has found that the college degree is not the only credential which makes a difference anymore. This is true for at least two reasons. First, industry certifications have increased in importance. Second, short-term courses indicate you have gained additional skills and can add valuable keywords to your career marketing materials, especially your LinkedIn profile.
The recruiter said that he is receiving job orders specifying an industry certification as a requirement and a college degree as “preferred” instead of “required.” What this means is that, in some cases, you may want to promote your industry credentials more prominently going forward.
Short online courses that do not lead to formal certifications now have more value than they once did because they add keywords to your LinkedIn profile. For example, I recently “attended” a SkillShare class on blog writing. LinkedIn added the class to my profile, with my approval, so blog writing has been added to the keywords on my profile. Recruiters scan profiles electronically, so the keywords may bring a profile to an employer’s attention even if they do not read the course or certification section.
There is no way a two-hour class in blog writing, or anything else, for that matter, will give you the same knowledge, skill, and credibility you will get from a college degree. People hire people, though, so it is important to get through the electronic filters and appear in a hiring team-member’s virtual inbox.
Apprenticeship programs offer a middle-ground.
Fortunately, there is an option that offers more meaningful training than short online courses, while avoiding the time and expense of a four-year degree. Apprenticeship programs where employees learn while in a salaried job have existed for years in skilled manufacturing and construction trades. Now, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, apprenticeships exist in high-demand fields such as IT and healthcare. More than 90% of apprentices remain in their jobs after completing their training, and earn median salaries of about $60,000.
Apprenticeship programs include both on-the-job training and classroom education leading to industry-recognized credentials. A representative of a sponsoring agency thought apprenticeship graduates earn up to $3000 more per year than those that do not participate in these programs.
While college and university-level schooling is still the gold standard in our view, shot-term training offers options for those that need to work and earn more now.
Can you inoculate yourself against income loss?
Education and training may serve as an inoculation of sorts against the risk of a bad economic outcome including prolonged unemployment and poverty. When you are vaccinated against a virus, as we have learned in recent months, there is no guarantee you won’t get sick. The vaccine reduces the chance you will get very sick or die. Education and training reduces the likelihood you will become very poor and increases the chance you will earn sufficient income to support yourself and your family.