How to get an education that pays off

Education institutions view students are customers, and offer programs students are lining up for, whether jobs will be there upon graduation or not

Roslyn KuninPost-secondary education used to be reserved for the very rich or the very bright. Now, most high school grads are fighting to get into the universities which are expensive and getting ever more choosy. Why?

A high school diploma alone does not open doors to a good job or a career. The justification for putting in the time, effort and expense of getting more education is to enable the graduate to end up making a better living. If the goal of advanced education is to make someone more financially successfully, usually by means of a well-paying job, it is surprising how few students (or their indebted parents) seriously consider the income prospects their course of study will generate.

Young people can be forgiven for being naïve and optimistic and for thinking that courses would not be offered unless there were jobs for the graduates. Alas, this is not the case.

Education institutions see the students as their customers. If students are lining up to get into teacher training and social work, those programs will be offered regardless of whether openings will be there for the graduates. Government has not been creating these kinds of jobs nor is it likely to do so in the foreseeable future.


Post-secondary tuition puts the brakes on our economy by Robert McGarvey


One area that is appealing to many young people is management. Good managers are hard to find whether in the public or the private sector. Every restaurant chain, construction project, investment property or business – big or small – needs skilled managers. Only some of the skills, however, can be learned in school. Here are four areas to consider:

General business skills: These are things like accounting, marketing, pricing, customer relations and meeting government requirements that every business must manage if it is to survive. A basic grounding in these areas can come from a good business course at the graduate or undergraduate level. Experience in running even a small business will also cover a lot of this ground.

Technical skills: Today’s businesses use technology like yesterday’s businesses used the telephone. It may be just the accounting package and the communication system in a small, simple business or it may be cutting edge techniques in additive manufacturing (which you may know as 3-D printing). Whatever it is, the manager has to have a good grasp of what it is and how it works. She also has to have the ability to learn new technologies as they emerge. Depending on the courses chosen, a good starting level of the relevant technologies can be learned in school. Learning them in any job or business works as well or better.

People skills: Managers have to deal well with people. They have to keep their own bosses happy and they have to be able to attract and keep people with the skills the company needs. It is the manager’s job to keep peace in the workplace, to handle crises and to be accountable. They cannot expect love from the people who work for them, although being a good boss will generally get them respect. Courses and books on people skills are available, but dealing with conflict, anger management negotiating and selling require practice.

Industry knowledge and experience: Even with the skills mentioned here, it is rare to get a management job without experience in a specific industry. Such experience need not be at a high level. If you would like to be managing the next fast food chain in Canada, get a weekend or summer job at MacDonald’s and keep your eyes and ears open. If you are thinking about managing construction projects, consider a related trade or invest time as a general labourer so you can see that you have worked on a building site. A customer service job in a bank might be the start of a management career in finance.

Starting at the bottom of a firm and moving up to the top is rare these days, but starting at the bottom, getting relevant education and adding skills and experience can turn into a great career. It’s something to think about as you head into the classroom.

Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker. 

© Troy Media


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