Who cares?

I was talking to C in the cafe this morning and she told me that her husband was bullied by his parents to take a real course in a real uni that would lead to a real job with real (good) money. She said it was the same for her brother too who really wanted to be a real woodworker but wasted years and money because of his parents who couldn’t understand his wish to waste his education working manually as a cabinet maker. At what point do parents forfeit the rights to so bully their children and use manipulative tactics to ensure that they get their wishes met? You see few parents will support their children later teen years into the early 20s if they don’t choose higher education and never consider higher education training in lowly paid apprenticeships. I mean how many of you parents would have pumped say $20,000 a year into apprenticing fees with someone like me. I mean for, say, 3 years full time? Bare in mind that we have never ever charged an apprentice in any course and they have never in the past 20 years made a thing for me to gain from. I am just interested here. It’s a real question. I know degreed people by the dozen now who have never used their gained degrees, never actually needed anything past ten years in education from 5 years to 16 years and never used their higher education in the work that they do. I ask my students most of whom do have university degrees these questions and they almost all say the same. Few ever actually used or needed their degrees but learned what they need for their jobs actually being in the workplace they ended up working at. Not saying higher degrees are unnecessary, but what support would parents give if their kid said I want to work with Paul?

Anyway, currently, as I am sitting here anonymously, I am listening to an older woman in her early 50’s telling a 12 year old girl sitting in the cafe we’re in that if she gets good results in her exams “it will set you up for the rest of your life.” I mean what does she know about predicting this child’s future? Is it based on her personal knowledge of life? Why so confident? Would she be saying the same if she said she was sitting a pottery exam. Wow! Become a good potter and you will be set up for life. I don’t think so. So all of this is leading me somewhere. What is the basis for a good job, a good life? What is the basis for you to invest in your children’s future? Is it the fine arts degree that will do this? I have known many woodworking teachers who were useless at woodworking and useless teachers too. I knew a useless pottery professor teaching ceramics in a university who couldn’t throw a pot against a brick wall and hit the wall. By what are we qualified? Most magazine editors have degrees in anything but the magazine they just started writing for out of an interest in writing. Within a year they were recognised with titles like expert. I saw this with a leading US magazine where the photographer was soon interested in woodwork because he was taking pics. One minute he was described as a novice and a year later he was “expert”. How do we get back to where things were evident as to a persons abilities?

 

58 comments on “Who cares?

  1. These are real concerns you have brought up with no definitive real answers to be given as there is no guarantee in life that one will have a bright future in any chosen career. I have always said to my children that an apprenticeship is the best way to go,because having a trade behind you is what my father calls the golden hands that speak all languages. None of them have taken that path instead have entered university with a hex debt that will linger upon them for the rest of their natural lives.

  2. I worked with a man a few years ago who had two sons, a year apart. One went to work as an apprentice carpenter, the other to university for a degree in business.

    The first spent a few thousand on tools, truck, etc for his trade, and worked 3 yrs to get a foot hold in the carpentry business. He spent appx. 10K on tools and such to get started.

    The second when to a public university at 20,000/yr (student loans) plus 2 more for a Masters degree. All in he was around 150K in the whole when started his career.

    20 years later the carpenter had paid his initial costs of tools and learning and was making 45-50K a year, doing what he loved, and had a very nice savings and a career he loved. The other brother, nice life, was getting 80-100K a year, still paying his student loans off, and doing well in middle to upper management.

    End result they both were happy with their careers, but the carpenter had mastered his trade, worked less, lived more, suffered little stress and was financially in the same place his brother was after 20 years. (Plus he was in better physical shape and spent a little more quality time with his family according to his father.)

  3. My son got a degree in marine biology at an East coast college. Upon graduating he told me some of his class mates had gone to California (West coast) and were renting a big apartment and they had room for him. I suggested that he go, figuring that it would be a good experience.
    He went and to pay his part of the rent, started replacing windows and hanging doors. As a teenager he had help me reluctantly with my carpentry/woodwork. I thought he wasn’t paying any attention. Obviously, I was wrong.
    He liked the carpentry work so much, he got his journeyman papers. He met a girl and moved back East and started his own carpentry business from scratch. He bought a van and I gave him almost all my tools. That was 14 years ago, and he’s still going strong, but he never got a job related to his college degree.
    My daughter was gifted in foreign language, graduated cum laude and even went to Europe to take graduate courses. When she came back to the states, she got a job as a waitress in an Italian restaurant. Her cousin had moved to Colorado and invited her to visit. She got a job as a “911” operator and has been working there for years. So much for her college degree.

  4. Imagine the same conversation with Chinese parents? Where education is valued back to a time when the only way to escape and move up society’s ladder was to do well on the national scholarly test.

    Though it is unfair to call a parent “manipulative.” They only want what they perceive as best for their off springs. The problem is their perception, and the way usury pushes society in a certain direction.

    I have a PhD in Biochemistry, I haven’t used it in 2 years. I am grateful for my parents’ efforts, I met my wife while in graduate school. All paths and experiences lead us to exactly where we are suppose to be.

    A person who get’s his way in life is a sad child, and a person who struggles in life is happy man.

    If we considered the parent’s perspective, we probably won’t get worked up at all. If a person can’t stand up to his parents it is because he is not ready.

  5. My wife wanted to be a nurse and after a few years in the military I decided I wanted to go work in electronics. She needed a 4-year degree to become an RN so that is what she did. I needed at minimum a masters degree to get the job I have now so that is what I did. Neither of us got a degree then went looking for an occupation that suited us, it was the other way around. I think sending kids off to university without a chosen occupation is the problem. They need to decide what they want to do then the parents can help them achieve it.

    My son is nearly 2 years old and already has money saved for his after high school education. If he decides to apprentice with a woodworker or other trade instead of university then I will support him all the way. My father earned his living from an apprenticeship and trade as an electrician so who am I to demand university as the only path?

    • That is 100% correct. Who at 18 really knows what they want to do careers wise? Not the majority of first years undergrads, that’s a known fact. I’ve always believed either an apprentiship or 4-5 years in the military is the best start before deciding if/what you want to do at university. Those e tea few years make the world of difference in your self awareness, and getting away from education for a few years does you the world of good too.

  6. There is a pretty big article in The Times I read today about apprenticeships and how many people are thinking in the same way. However, I think most parents are just keen to see their kids find a means of support.
    If their only life experience is going through higher ed themselves, then I assume that is what they would be preaching. I’ve met a lot of ex-joiners and an awful lot of those say the they had in joiners shop job equated to was ‘slave labour’, (with the company taking the big cut).
    A lot of these joiners have a very sceptical view of apprenticeships, indeed, if anything, would be looking to ‘give their kids what they never had’, ie a chance to go to university and to have some choice in life.
    It’s never easy. For each person’s idea of a good choice, there’s another with a different opinion. Who’s to say that the opinion of yourself is of any more value that the woman in the cafe, Paul?

  7. What do you think of those woodworking schools who offer courses costing £15-20,000 for a year with the lure of getting a job with a top furniture maker?

      • Thats Funny!!, I got a big kick out of that. I would personally pay 100,000.00 for an apprenticeship program If I could afford it.
        I will tell you whats not funny,
        Im supposed to be living in one of the greatest countries in the world as for as the economy is concerned. And at one time years back . People used to help one another. For nothing. It was called generosity and good character. And I went to college got my degree and never used it. I use to make 6 figures easy but then one day someone thought it more important to text on the phone than to pay attention to their driving and my life was changed forever. Every penny I owned went towards medical bills. After all was done I was so broke even the penny’s from my penny loafers were missing.
        . So I found woodworking as a hobby and I have never been as happy as I am now.

        So I emailed, called, wrote letters, texted, Not while driving though lol. every woodworking school in the US I could find and asked if I could pay monthly for an apprenticeship program and I was turned down by every school I approached. For me that was very disheartening

        , I thought , to myself of course , Why wouldn’t these woodworkers want to teach someone there skills. Why wouldn’t they want to pass it on to somebody who really wants to learn but yet is just a little financially challenged. I was so disappointed that I came real close to giving up.
        So Then one day I was searching the web for a how to, cant remember what it was and that’s when I found Paul’s Masterclass site . Ive been a member for almost two years or is it longer Im not sure. But I now can chop my mortises with a beveled edge chisel without the guide block and they come out better and straighter than my 1,400.00 mortiser. Thats cool, I think.
        And Even though I still would like to have the personnel training that you get from an apprenticeship program.Its not the end of the world. and if you want something bad enough you will find a way to get it That’s just a fact.
        Paul has not once shied away from any of my ridiculous questions and believe me I’ve asked some doozies. And all this for what. The little fee that I pay for the site. Its half the price of a soda pop a day. Honestly I feel that what Paul is charging for the Masterclass site He is really paying me to learn. And In reality he really is. There’s still good people in this world , lots of them, were just getting harder to find.

  8. “How do we get back to where things were evident as to a persons abilities?” The majority never will simply because the majority are unwilling. I could go on about how people’s ethics are relative to their abilities. It would do no good. Here where I live in the southern U.S. you can’t find a half way decent carpenter to save your life. They’re all dead and gone. That’s why I read and follow people like you. I have to do things myself if I want a finished job. Quick story, I had a water heater to leak for several months in such a way that it was hidden. By the time it was discovered we had a small mold problem. and a lot of water damage. Due to my job and time restraints, I thought I needed to hire a local professional contractor to tear out and replace. He took up the easiest to remove floor boards and covered the wet insulation and joists with new plywood, told us just to paint over the wet sheetrock. The only way I discovered this is I worried about the mold and probed his work. Long story short he ripped me off. I threw him out and done the work myself a little at a time. I worry for the older folks people like this guy (and there are multitudes of them) rip off daily. People are the problem and people are the solution.

    • This is a real heavy conversation going on here, It’s obvious that everyone has their own ideas on how the world should be and that’s a great thing, Just imagine if we were all the same. Boy wouldn’t that be a stimulating conversation.

      James Taylor pretty much summed it up in one of his songs Where he says, that The secret of life is enjoying the passage of Time.

      What do we really have and own in life.The day we are born , the day we leave. I don’t think that we can take any of our material possessions with us when we leave. So what’s our true worth on that day .

      That being said and correct me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t we do what makes us happy with the little time that we have between those two days.

      Mediocrity is a disease , And people have no idea what there doing to others especially when what they think is the right thing to do. It’s certainly not intentional not for the majority of the cases.

      I remember My grandmother always telling me as a kid that all I needed was a good steady job. She didn’t mean any harm she only wanted what she thought would be best for me.

      She grew up during the depression in the US, and as a child and it shaped and molded her into the person she was as our environment and societies often do.

      Times are changing again and you know what they say, that History repeats itself.

      Your going to see again that having a skill set is equally or more important than having a degree. Note, I didn’t use the word education. The two are not the same.

      But to answer the question.
      I do……… Care that is.

  9. Some people associate money with success and happiness. Some people are overbearing and wrong.

    My son is 11 and we do the whole, “do well in exams and it sets you up” bit, but with a twist; we tell him it gives him more options. Doing well in exams will keep doors open which requires those exams, but those doors with no academic requirement will always be open, regardless.

    Ultimately I want my son to be happy and do a job he loves. Jobs that pay well but that you have no passion for are soul-crushing and I don’t want that for him. Rocket scientist, carpenter, struggling artist, CEO, street sweeper, it makes no odds to me if he is happy. Rocket scientist might need some exams to keep that opportunity open, but I don’t expect him to know what he wants in a career until it’s past time to choose which subjects to take at school. It takes time to find yourself and good exam results can buy you that time.

    • I agree with you on this one.
      These days, many openings require the vital piece of paper, even though it may not be worth much in itself. (Eg. A friend on mine was sent on a course by his employer (the Post Office) and is now qualified to ‘mop up spills.’) Add to this the understandable fact that most children have no idea what they want to do in life and the advice to, ‘do as well as you can with what you are presented with at the moment,’ is sound.
      Now, if the young person *does* have a strong interest in one particular job, and that job looks like a fair bet (not like the fool nephew, who opted to become a professional poker-player, until he had lost all his money, of course) then, fine. He or she should be encouraged.
      The big mistake is to be lazy, and end up with no qualifications, no skills, and no path to follow.

  10. Bravo, Paul, Bravo! I was denied entrance Into a trade school, while in High school because I was considered college material and it would be a waste. A waste of what? I did not go on to a University. I went to work in the trades. I learned, really learned, more math in six months than i did in all my years in school. I used to ask my High school math teacher what i was to do with this stuff? His reply ” Math is everywhere.” This is true but it did not answer my question at the time. I have never regretted my choice. I have always been able to be employed, at quite a fair wage most of the time. Many of my classmates wet to school for many years only to end up doing what I had been doing all along. Keep up the work Paul.

  11. I left home soon after high school with a minuscule scholarship to play cello at a small university in Texas in the late 80s. My parents “wanted” me to go to college however they provided no advice or support on how to get there. While I very much thought I wanted to go to this university I was not able to find a way to make it feasible in my mind.
    So I spent a few years working manual labor, construction and selling furniture I made to augment my income for a while. Meanwhile I accidentally taught myself automotive work and developed a career as an automotive technician. For twelve years I worked on transmissions, diesel engines and various parts of cars and trucks. I did these things for two fundamental reasons, to subsist my family and my mind. As the internet entered the mainstream I began learning more about these technologies and developed a interest in software, programming and other technologies related. Without a long series of events being laid out, this all brought me to where I am today.
    Today, I am principal technologist for a large publisher, ironically working in education related technologies. Not because I went to a university but because I continue to learn and follow my interests. I have several “apprentices” I train and develop in this field some are great and others good. Meanwhile I also manage teams of developers for which I interview (and reject) large numbers “educated” candidates that lack the most basic of skills for the career they are pursuing. The key factor in those that are great and those that fail, is the passion (or lack of) for their trade of choice.
    My daughter of 22 left university with only a few electives to finish her degree in fine arts. She had begun to feel “she was paying money to teach the professors”. She has chosen an apprenticeship in making picture frames, applying her artistic talents to something she enjoys. While as her father I see her struggle from time to time financially, in contrast every time I speak to her she is excited to talk about a piece of art she framed that week (many times a private collection piece from an artist we would only ever see in a museum). She will struggle perhaps, as we all do with various parts of our life (money, people, etc) and as a selfish parent I want her to go back to university, but I will not press the issue because I know this is not what she wants.
    I believe jobs are like relationships we develop with those people in our lives, some relationships are good, a few can be great while others can be toxic. Much like these relationships we outgrow some, discover new ones and if we are lucky we find that “one” we must have in our lives forever. Most of us will spend more time with our careers than we will with our families, enough time that the careers we choose really should be a “loved one” as well. I do not believe a secondary education will help with this, nor do I think it is necessary; it most certainly will not provide that initial passion that is fundamental to ones professional happiness, this comes from within. When a child possesses a healthy passion for something it is likely best to encourage it, provide support and guidance. They may find it’s a relationship they don’t like or it may be that one, but until they are allowed to discover they will never know.

  12. As a parent, my money is my money and I choose to spend it on what I want. A child has no right to expect someone to support them once they reach 18 years of age (or whatever the legal adult age is). You work for what you want.

    That being said, I would help either of my children. But first they have have prove to me that what they want to do, they can get a return on my investment. I will not foolishly waste money on a degree that will not pay off. This silly stuff of going to college for 4 years to make $40,000/year is foolish and a waste of money. The same goes for supporting someone that want to do a trade for years if they have no idea if it will support them.

    I grew up in the largest Amish community in the world. I have seen how people flock to that area to purchase (in most cases fake) hand crafted items. They are attracted to “old world” craftsmanship and will pay. But where I live now, I am not sure you could make a living doing that. There is not an influx of tourist looking for handcrafted items. So there needs to be some thought and a business plan also. Not I am going to learn off so and so and that is going to bring people to me. Or should I say the field of dreams dream.

    So if a child of mine came to me and asked if I would support him/her while she went and studied under Paul, they would have to show me how their business plan. Plus they would have to watch each of his videos and build some projects. I want to see the interested deep inside so I know they will not quit.

  13. This is such a huge and deep question. Not sure how deep we want to go with this but there are a few things I dare to mention.

    Good education is not merely set of skills and knowledge that you will need in your daily work. It is a system of thinking and skills how to approach any task. In university they show you a way how to teach yourself. It changes your mind set and your view of the world. So, in addition to that question about whether university knowledge was useful in life or not, I would ask how many would in retrospect prefer not to have had spent that time in university even if they changed their course of life to something like woodworking instead. I know I wouldn’t trade my chemistry education. Even though my occupation now is software development and my hobby is woodworking.

    Regarding emerging “experts” in the internet and other media… There is very pronounced belief in the western culture that right attitude and commercial success is more important than thorough understanding and scientific degree. Add to this that sometimes good connections to right people bring bad decisions to life and discard the better ones. In woodworking, that perceived more like an art than a science, it is hard to sort out all advises and opinions and easy to get caught by unfounded believes.

    As a young parent, I would motivate my children to be good at something, preferably in many things. And then get higher education based on one of those things, of course. This is what I would do different than that older woman. After that, I would not mind if they would switch to anything they desire. Even taking pictures of butterflies, if they get paid for that 🙂 And definitely would not mind to visit Paul on weekends workshops while studying at university, even if I would have to pay for that. Maybe not only Paul but more others.

    • I was hoping someone would point out that Uni is NOT a training program! It is totally different from a manual training program, although some fields do require a manual skills component such as art, dentistry, or surgery.

      • I am not sure how higher education is not a training program to educate the young generations (mostly) according to its preset program. Very few people go to university without attending the chosen courses. The courses are indeed a passage from one course level to another with a very definitive plan to get a person through different spheres of learning to program them about very specific issues. Manual skills are for the dextrous. Some people are good with their hands and can combine additional spheres with their academics but rarely get them matched up at university level I think. I think what I hear is that you are saying manual training is some kind of mechanical program rather than a multidimensional framework of critical thinking. I have always seen craft work and mechanics as equally demanding as academic in that they do require critical thinking, minute by minute decision making, interrelational concepts between maths and making, writing for communications and so on. All of these things are training programs which translate into human resources whether they come through continuing education in the classrooms of universities and colleges or out in a genuine working environment on the job. Both are valid options for different preferences. On the one hand you get paid and have no debt and on the other you end up in debt (unless parents pay) and most likely can never pay the debt off. I think too, and it is only what I have read and heard, most university graduates are not actually trained to work within a companies protocol and have to go through the companies lengthy training program to be of any use to them once they graduate.

        • Paul. I left school only really knowing that I had a vague interest in science and music – I hadn’t really discovered woodwork. I attend a technical college which I feel is akin to a trade approach. It offered a great training in practical analysis and I found it quite hard. Practical science such as microscopy involves, like woodwork, a high level of delicate manipulation and practical skill. It also involves critical thinking, planning and so-on. At the same time I worked in industry. I enjoyed involvement in the commissioning and running of a massive methanol plant – it was quite exciting at times. After a while though routine set in and I wished for more and so started correspondence papers in biochemistry. I found that absolutely fascinating. In the end I gave up my job and went to university – because I was interested. I remember a lecturer once saying that the technical course I had done was a training, but they would provide an education. I thought this was a bit snooty, but in hindsight, I think I understand what he meant. The approach through University and in post grad studies is quite different to the training at technical college. They are for different purposes. I believe technical college equips folk with ability in the lab – much better that a degree does, while the degree equips folk better for, for example, research. Which route you take depends on aptitude in different areas and what you enjoy – sometimes it takes a lifetime to discover the latter. We need both approaches to make an industry and the world function. So, if everyone made tables or fixed plumbing or made knives (my latest fad), while those are more or less important in their own right, we wouldnt be making much progress in cancer research or farming and we would all starve. As for not being trained to work in a particular specific area for work, that is not what education is about IMHO. That is on-the-job training.

        • You exactly make my point in your last paragraph. You leave Uni with an education, then when you get a job they train you for it (e cluding the obvious professions). No one is saying anything against manual training, and I think you completely missed our point. When I hire people, I hire for personality and intelligence.. I can train them if they are smart enough and have sensitivity, warmth, empathy, and genuineness.
          The Uni part is a necessary but not sufficient pre requisite. These ideas are just as true if you want to be a machinist or a plumber or an aircraft mechanic. You have the basic knowledge (theory) but then you need the skills to execute and the personality to fit into the team, especially if you have to deal with clients. In real life, no one gives a rats ass if your mother believes you are a special snowflake.with lots of potential. If you are in business for yourself you have to know how to speak to,others, and if you become successful and hire helpers, you have to know how to manage people so,that the are happy, fulfilled, and help the business prosper. So I will reiterate: don’t go to University to train for a job. You go for an education if your calling requires it, otherwise you are far better off going to a training college with an apprenticeship or placement program for your desired profession. I am now a surgeon, but I also went to engineering school. The prof who taught plastics materials science (industrial polymer chemistry )gave us the best advice: he said to the class that if it seems like work when you are here in the lab, then this is not for you! I thought that was wonderful advice and I have told many young people the same thing: Find your passion first, then the job will take care of itself. This presupposes that your passion is not just playing videos, but programming them. It presupposes that you are not lazy and slothful. I don’t want to make this too long, but I hope that clarifies my point. I think it is ridiculous if people go to Uni “to get a degree ” but without a plan to then use it to further their goals.

          • I think I may be preaching to the choir on my blog because most here like working manually but, actually, people do say things against manual training. All the time. They may not use words, but they do say it. It has never bothered me because I love my manual work. There is no way I could be an accountant even though the unpleasantness of bookkeeping must be in some measure a part of good management. I have always found my manual work highly rewarding even though many people did look down on me. I think people express it very strongly if their 17 year old wants to work manually. They say things that do reflect their attitude.

  14. I can’t speak for any, or even for most, but I can tell you I hadn’t planned on going to college at all. I’m in the video-game industry, as an artist (I build props for game worlds). In this field, a degree isn’t at all necessary, and I knew as much– until my girlfriend at the time, and my parents, began whispering into my ears, and making me doubt about my decision to not go for a degree.

    The idea that degrees are the key to a successful life is as pushed onto highschoolers as ever. For myself, I was afraid I was just being young and stubborn, to stick to this idea of not going to college. I was afraid I’d grow to regret it, since growing up, everyone, culturally, seemed to be shouting at us children about the merits of college degrees. To willfully ignore these shouts, I thought, must just be my stubbornness acting out.

    So I thought, well, I’ll apply, to appease everyone. And I applied to a school in my desired field (videogame art), and got in (these schools are a scam, totally, and have a low bar of entry, to match, I later found out). The school’s teachers were mostly outdated and the old joke “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” rang very true. It was a waste, except for a few of the people I met. I firmly believe an unrelated degree, more to suit my personality, would have been a better choice (say, literature, writing, or philosophy), and probably would have cost less.

    4 years on from first applying, I was one of the few of my classmates who graduated. And two years later, I am one of the fewer working in the industry, making $50,000 a year, and am over $100,000 in debt with school loans.

    If that much debt is the key to a successful future, well, I think the world is a little topsy-turvy.

  15. I have three degrees: Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology, Master of Business Administration (MBA) in health care/hospital administration, and a Master of Science (MS) in Information Systems (computers and the like).
    Scratch the BA: I used to joke about opening up a psychology store, and in fact people now obtain Masters’ degrees and open up what I call street corner fringe therapy practices that get them and their gullible clients little in return.
    The MBA is useful but only barely so in my back pocket, I can balance a checkbook, but not for long. Being averse to kissing butt and being blunt instead pretty well takes me out of the corporate world. Sometimes it happened with a “thud”.
    When we were granted the MS degrees, we were told that the half-life then (any nuclear scientists out there?) of our technical knowledge was about 18 months. (“Half-life” being a milestone at which half of what you know is obsolete in a period of time. When I retired three years ago, that half life was down to just a very few months, and after over fifteen years of struggle to keep out there on the cutting edge of information management, I an unemployable as a computer geek.

    So, after military service was over in 1971, I had the choice of joining a (-a what?) – a trade or self employment, of seeking the security of benefits and a pension with a big employer, or taking my chances where a shattered hip would put me in the unemployment line. Well, I tried to do it all. Got jobs, made jobs for myself when there weren’t any others around, shattered the hip, and got yet another degree and a job with a National Bank, and still went bouncing around. (Yes, I did consider staying in uniform as a career.)

    Maybe I should have done something I would have been happy with, because none of the “fixed for life” options ever worked out. It so happens that making a cane or making ten canes is just as well an enjoyable thing to do, because I need a stick to walk safely and the aluminum Medicare canes are ugly as sin.

    I could really make some great-looking, successful-looking canes if I still had all that tuition money sitting in the bank. I’ll settle for handmade canes with a hand rubbed finish.
    If my hands hold up to the arthritis.

    You make a good point, Paul. I’m slowly, quietly, coming to terms with it as my 70th year approaches.

  16. I suspect that I am in a relatively unique position on this subject. Both my wife and I have college degrees. I have an advanced degree in comp-sci, and I use it in my job daily and make a 6-figure salary. We also have 8 homeschooled children, all at home still. However, we have long since recognized the insanity of the college-degree bubble economy and how the college-bound presumption interacts with other slavish tendencies toward “authority” within the broader culture. We are actively working to inoculate our children against the pervasive idea that getting a college degree and a corporate job is the best way to get ahead. This is a hard furrow to plow, first because the college/corporate idea is so embedded in the (US) mainstream consumptive culture, in spite of the reality that this model has already failed and the edifices built upon it are starting to collapse; and second, because neither my wife nor I had any significant entrepreneurial role models when we ourselves were growing up.

    I’m currently trying to accomplish two objectives simultaneously: 1a. work myself out of the corporate world and into a sustainable family-oriented income model; and 1b. train my children to be smarter than I was and learn early how to be entrepreneurs and pursue a living doing something they love. Paul has been a ray of hope in this regard, that he makes it sound possible to accomplish 1a. This attitude is fleetingly rare, even among people who are currently attempting to do it.

    Now my oldest son (17) has been working not quite full time for the past year, learning the ins and outs of a local family-run salvage & second-hand business. He chose to do this in lieu of taking a formal academic program at the local community college. My second son is slowly working towards opening up his own internet store-front handicrafts shop. So we may be winning 1b, but somedays it feels like a draw at best.

    Paul asks which parents would pay $20k for a child to complete an apprenticeship. To that I say, probably, “nay”. But I wouldn’t pay that for my child to go to college either. I put myself through college mostly with work and scholarships, while supporting a young family, and now my own young adults could do the same thing. On the other hand, if one of my children said, “I want to work with Paul” and Paul would take same child, I would move heaven and earth to make it happen.

  17. I was wounded in combat while in the USArmy, and afterward as a civilian became a journeyman carpenter through the union’s apprenticeship program. After ten years, I couldn’t walk due to the injuries from the military and the VA sent me to college as an Accountant. I hated being a bean counter! I went for my masters degree in artificial Intelligence, and ultimately earned my PhD in Mathematics. Three years after I became a tenured Professor, I was offered early retirement for budget reasons. Now I apply my math and teaching skills to help others in their carpentry apprenticeships and advanced certifications. Wood is my first love, and my father disapproved of my occupational choices to the point of disownment, but I was stoic. The salary of a teacher is dismal, but it is very rewarding. I know I’m rambling, but when a person bravely goes their own way and is happy, they are a success. Trying new things enables a person to find their niche, just like I found math and teaching. PS: Funny how life goes round in circles!? Great lesson, Paul!

  18. Paul,..Your recent posts are eliciting a lot of interesting responses. I have failed to note anyone yet remarking that modern western educational systems are actually business profit systems. The idea of ‘education and assistance into a viable career’ is secondary to colleges’ and universities’ self profit motives. Hence the present ridiculous charges and fees associated with so called higher education.

    We obviously require highly skilled and trained individuals in the modern era in the sciences, maths, computer industries etc., but society itself cannot function without future men and women providing the necessary services of the the technical trades. The idea that robots are one day going to come to your home and fix a broken sink pipe is a far off dream that may never happen.

    University was affordable when I attended a lifetime ago and one could work at the same time and leave with a degree and no more money owed upon entering the work force. Today’s universities function like wall street asset strippers. Fee upon fee but no guarantee that a successful career awaits and a huge life debt burden placed upon the graduate and their familiy.

    There is an answer to the question posed and it is simply, ‘Let each person choose their own destiny regarding career choices’. Doing something one loves and enjoys brings the greatest rewards and contrary to Hollywood thinking it’s not always about the money. Going forward the trades will be good earning careers for many younger people as the number of skilled older individuals continues to decline. And if money is the most important issue for some, l would add this. An electrician friend remarked to me a few days ago that his friend, a fellow electrician, was now earning $250 thousand a dollars year. Not bad for a non-degree tradesman wouldn’t you say.

    • Joe – while I agree with a lot of what you say, I have to point out that “Western” does not mean the USA model is the only option. In most countries in Europe (possibly the UK is the only relative exception?) a university education is still very cheap and students do not leave education burdened by huge debts (or parents with large bills/depleted funds). Whether they do anything of interest/use/profit to them or others with the education they have supposedly acquired is a completely different question and there I agree with you fully: “Doing something one loves and enjoys brings the greatest rewards”.

  19. My daughter is about to embark on her university studies with the aim of becoming a doctor. This has nothing to do with money or politics, we haven’t coerced her into this with the promise of financial rewards. It just so happens that she is a very smart young lady and is fascinated with science and enjoys helping people. Its what she has always wanted to do. She could do many things – a trade for instance, but that would not be making use of her particular talents and would probably not be fulfilling for her. The last post hits it on the head. Its not about money, although you have to make a living (being an igloo maker in Dubai possibly hasn’t got much future). Sure a degree isn’t everything but, as much as I love making things in wood and metal, when I go under the knife, I’m glad that many of the best and brightest chose difficult academic carreers like medicine and the person on the end of the scalpel didn’t chose to be a carpenter. So quoting the previoius post ‘Let each person choose their own destiny regarding career choices’

    • I wonder how many people realise that being a surgeon (‘going under the knife’ as you rightly say) is a skilled, *practical* manual job!
      Just a thought …

      • Peter, you always peg it for what is. That’s how I see surgery too. On Sundays I do brain tumours and such, and Wednesdays between 2 and 6pm I switch to my orthopaedic work. The rest of the time I practice my woodworking hobbies.

      • Absolutely, no doubt about the practical skills involved in surgery which compliment the academic understanding of anatomy etc. What I’m trying to say is that everyone has a range of talents which, combined, will likely point to a career that is both useful and satisfying. Some of these are more academically demanding and require a different approach to preparing for them, that is why we have universities. I enjoy wood and metal work as a hobby. I might have been OK at it as a career but it hasn’t turned out like that and the job I’m in pays enough for me to enjoy creative hobbies outside of work, afford new hand tools without financial worry (as well as some old ones). As for using degrees, I don’t use all the stuff I learned many years ago but the process of learning it has shaped the way I approach problems and has meant I can do the job I do. So, for young people starting out, its a matter of determining where passions and talents lie and getting good advice.

  20. I recently went to a charter school where I got very good grades for an IT degree. I realized that it just wasn’t for me after I had almost finished the program so I was out about 30 grand; I did learn some important stuff that I didn’t learn in high school. Such as, algebra, calculus, being a better writer and learning a little technical writing among some other things. But the program was never for me and to be honest the school didn’t teach IT very well at all; it was a bit of a sham. I have since learned that when people/businesses want to train a new IT worker that they would actually rather have someone right off the street because they haven’t been ruined by bad schooling and they can start from scratch with them; not to mention they can hand-pick someone that meets their requirements for the specified job. It actually makes sense knowing what I know now. On the job training would be way better than that stupid school I attended; I do like that I learned the fundamentals of education so I cannot say it was a total loss.

    I never knew what I wanted to do at a young age and my situation back when i was young didn’t lend itself to that type of fortune. At some point in life we just need to trust God and realize that He is the important thing in this life. If one is able to find a career they love then fantastic; I wish them well. It just never happened for me. My life isn’t over yet though! I’ve just turned 47 and I am trying to be a better woodworker with an eye towards selling my stuff in the near future.

  21. It’s strange you should be writing about this today Paul: I had to spend last night at my son’s school as it is time for him to choose which GCSE’s he wishes to study.
    Well, I say ‘choose’ but actually by the time you remove the core subjects (A minimum of Maths, English Lang, English Lit, Double Science) then a compulsory Language (French or Spanish or German) then add on the non-negotiable extras (P.E. and R.E) and finally his non-core choice of History or Geography, there’s not a great deal left to choose. Music, Drama and Computer Science seem to be the options being looked at currently.

    I write this to give context to the depression I felt as we were told ‘these choices will shape the rest of your child’s life’ (utter rubbish) or that ‘the vocational subjects are really aimed at the “less able” children’ (why? if my child is interested in them, why can’t he do them – isn’t that what the word choice means) or even “You need to be planning your GCSE course selections with a view to which A Levels you want to take so you can be fully prepared for choosing a University to go to”. Apprenticeships were mentioned as something good for some as “we will always need someone to mend our washing machines”.

    Academia seems to be viewed as better than vocational and therefore worth more.

    I find myself more and more convinced that Education is not aimed at trying to help children bring out the best in themselves but simply to produce the next generation of good little tax payers. I stress here that it’s Education I blame and not the Teachers.

    I’m fast approaching 50 years of age. I work in the Market Research Industry as an IT Manager, I do not have a degree and all the people I know don’t use their degrees in any appreciable way. I don’t even have any professional qualifications but that makes me no less able in my job. It’s the people with degrees who come to me for help yet I pretty much fell into IT as a job almost by accident having started out as a Commercial and Advertising Photographer. A recent white paper predicted that the children in the next generation will have changed jobs around 14 times before they reach their 38th birthday. If this turns out to be true, what on Earth is all this planning for? It obviously wont have worked.

    Our entire culture is now driven by the need to ‘get on in life’. While that sounds like a very laudable thing, it is spoilt by the subtext ‘money will make you happy’. Now there’s no doubt that a certain level of money does indeed lubricate life but I think that we as a society all need to learn to be content with what we have and who we are and stop equating a successful life with multiple dollar signs.

    • As long as you yet draw breath then how can it be to late. I started at 48 and all is well I couldn’t be happier.

  22. I think as long as society equates happiness with financial success, we lose the point. We should introduce something like Gross Domestic Happiness instead of GDP.

  23. My parents still tell me I need a degree and am 36. I would invest in an apprenticeship due to the fact I would like to be on my own schedule. To have flexibility. If could learn to get a business going and an apprenticeship that taught the skills to do that and I could have that freedom, it would be a no brained to invest for me. My parents, not so much. They say I need a degree to get that. A part of that, I still think education and being smart is important, not so much to rely on that for solely income. There are some really poor smart people and people who cannot add 2+2 that are filthy rich.

  24. Many long posts here, I wish I had the time to read them all.

    The problem isn’t really about getting a degree or not, it’s rather that many parents project their own dreams on their kids. Parents should listen and give careful advice on these matters. If the kids are just lazy, then of course some pushing is in place. But if they really want to do something, and that something is heading for some sort of half decent living, I thing they deserve at least some morale support, if not economic.

    As for a getting a degree, I would recommend it to anyone …. if it is something you really love. You may get a relevant job, or you may end up doing something else, but you still had fun learning that stuff. Just don’t do it to get a high salary job.

    I have a MSc in microelectronics myself, and I have working in this field my entire life, used almost every bit of my education. I even dig out the heavy math and physics from time to time.

    My route into this was a bit similar to Pauls route into woodworking, only in reverse. None in my family had ever gone to university. Most of them quit school before they turned 16, so I came ut with this entirely on my own, but they supported me all the way. At the age of 13, I decided that I loved to tinker with electronics, so I started to read books and do small projects. I got my first job repairing electronics at the age of 17, and I combined this with school and university. Since then I spend many years designing microchips, and now I am “tearing” electronic devices apart from the police looking for data to be used as evidence. I have never regretted my choice, and most of the days I really enjoy my job.

    So even if I love woodworking, I know that I would be bored stiff if I had to do it 10 hours a day for 50 years. For me it is something really different. More doing and less abstract thinking. It is physical and uncomplicated, and after lots of practice, I can even end up making some pretty nice stuff. But I would never want to do it full time for more than a year or so. That I am pretty certain of.

    • Kjell that was an interesting read. My wife and I decided to co-write a mission statement for our young family. We figured if businesses do it why not do it for a family (which to me is far more important). It centers around how we aspire to raise our children and to help them find their calling. It goes like this:

      You are a gift to the world
      A blessing in our lives
      There is no one else like you
      I wish not for you to be like me
      Nor live as I do, but play
      To discover what you enjoy,
      explore your world with a
      compassionate curiosity
      and a freedom to simply be
      to become the person you were
      always meant to be and when
      you are older and we are
      greyer – we can laugh together
      of all that went before.

      It’s awesome that your family supported you in following your interest.

      • Mike,
        I guess it may have seemed easy for my family to support me since i did “the right thing” and went to university, but I know it is not necessarily so. I know people who grew up in families with no education. When they wanted to go to university their parents opposed it, wanting their kids to do the same work as they did. This is indeed an equally big problem as the one Paul described

    • It sounds like you do what you prefer, but people that are great at woodworking or whatever else that requires their hands doesn’t mean that they are less talented than people who use “high math”.

      • Not at all Frank, people who do woodworking are (or can be) just as intelligent and talented as people who run particle accelerators. I find it equally offensive when people say that you have to be less talented if you work with your hands, and when people say that my own profession involve little or no creativity.

        I just felt that the discussion tended towards “no one needs a degree because you will never find any use for it” which is flat out wrong. It is just as wrong as “you must get a degree if you want to get a proper job”.

        There are just as many people regretting that they dropped out of school or university that there are people regretting that the wasted their time at the very same places. Not everyone can be a woodworker, just as not everyone can have PhD.

  25. I thinks it is ridiculous that people categorize trade work as not requiring intelligence. As an electrician, I may not need to apply calculus regularly, but definitely trigonometry. Physics is really the core of what I do, and this requires at least a basic understanding of physics. To quote one electronics instructor, “Electricians are knuckle draggers.” I have met many engineers- important people who are really necessary, but who can’t understand why something simply is impossible because their figuring says it’s possible. They would if I had a degree. The perception is that working with your hands doesn’t mean using your head. It’s sad really. As a consequence, the majority of apprenticeship applicants we see believe the same thing, and when hired, work accordingly.

    In years passed, we had it better because people actually weighed the benefits of the huge expense of university. If they couldn’t work through the expense, they didn’t do it. Plenty of really bright people applied themselves to trade work and we were all the better for it.

  26. As a kid, I read about electronics and then built the circuits from recycled parts taken from other things. I read about astronomy, then got books and magazines from the library and taught myself to grind a mirror to build a telescope. I learned about birds, plants, and ecology and hiked to be in it. I played sports in leagues and taught myself some math. I went to college to learn physics. You cannot learn physics to achieve an end, like a job. It is just too hard. If you learn physics, you do it because you feel driven to understand physics. I did my bachelors degree and worked in a plastics shop during the summers, except one summer when I had a job programming. I went through my PhD and postdoctoral training. In this period, things changed. I started to see the difference between studying a subject, which I liked, and the reality of a career in science, which often has very little to do with science. Studying physics changed how I think about the world. I cannot imagine being me without that knowledge and set of mental tools. I cannot imagine a life without building things with my hands or without learning new things, whether that is physics, woodworking, aspects of design, programming, or any of the other things I’ve studied. As a matter of personal experience, I utterly reject Paul’s assertion in other postings that the world of thought, especially math, physics, computer science / architecture, lacks in spatial or relational thinking and creativity. But it is different, does not necessarily carry over to building, and has a different aesthetic than experiential art. And it is certainly true that kids sitting around doing video games, watching tv, or exercising their thumbs are not developing what I’m talking about.

    A writer who was also a career advisor wrote, “Don’t waste your time thinking about what is really a matter of experience.” If I have a complaint with the current system, it is that it forces kids to make choices based upon fictions in their heads, fictions put there via their own imaginations, their parents, movies, or books. We pigeon-hole people too soon and don’t allow time for trying out ideas of self and ideas of work to see how they really feel, to experience whether they suit us. We tell fairy tales to our kids when we describe just about any job. At least in the US, most kids are too busy trying to build a school resume to leave time to go out and experience things to find something that feels satisfying and produces contentment in its doing rather than being a path to being content in the future.

    So, I will go so far as to say that any person who declares any approach to living life to be absolutely right or absolutely wrong is mistaken. Some need school. Some don’t. Some need a mixture. It isn’t black and white.

    Two things are needed. First, is mutual respect. No one should feel the need to demonstrate their self worth, especially not through their work. Work can bring satisfaction and contentment, but a sense of worth should be a foundation. That sense of worth, separate from what we do, is hard for most of us to manage, if we’re honest. Second, is the opportunity for kids (and adults) to try on various styles of life to find what suits them. It is probably a mistake to look for satisfying all of our needs through just one thing, especially solely through work.

  27. In school, I had grown up in ‘gifted’ programs, and was sort of pushed all along towards the academic path. As a result, I took the minimum number of shop courses, despite thoroughly enjoying them. My electives focused on computers and the humanities. Towards the end of high school I started losing ambition and interest. From that, I graduated with mediocre grades, not qualifying for or perusing university entrance. Having lost sight of any direction in life, I made some mistakes and found myself in poverty and homelessness, which lasted for several years.

    I got out of it by taking out a student loan and going to school to study for a music degree (classical guitar), as I had found a bit of musical talent on my path. Finished my schooling, and (big surprise) found no career at the end of it.

    Worked as a dishwasher for a bit, then struck out in an attempt at freelance computer repair service. Moved on from that to a soul-sucking computer support call centre. This processed to a similar but much kinder position at the local community college, at which I’ve been for 8 years.

    About a year ago I was diagnosed with depression, which looking back was the primary contributor to a great deal of my struggles in life. On beginning treatment, I realized that I had been half-consciously regretting not taking more shop courses in school, and going into a woodworking trade.

    Well, at 42 and still not exactly well-off, it’s probably too late to hope for a lucrative career in furniture making, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take control of my life and pursue a correction to my regret.

    I found myself renting a house with a small basement and set up a nano shop. Got a table saw and a few other power tools to get me going, made a workbench. This was all because I had inherited a couple of hand planes from my grandpa, and had no man’s to use them.

    With the bench set up, I tried out the planes. They were rusty and far from sharp. I started looking for instruction on the internet on sharpening and restoring planes. This is when I discovered you, Paul.

    Got myself a granite surface pate and some wet dry sandpaper, and got to work. I quickly discovered (though I knew all along) how wonderful the feeling of peeling off shaving are shaving with a plane can be.

    I’ve taken a couple of woodworking courses kindly paid for my by employer, and learned a few things about building wooden projects with mostly power tools. But thanks to your useful instruction on YouTube, and the Working Wood book/videos, I’ve learned enough to realize that, given time and practice, I can reproduce most if not all of the power tool functions with chisel, hammer, plane, knife, ruler, square, and saw.

    I should mention here that, whenever I have a depressive episode, an hour or two in the basement with the wood and steel both grounds and elevates me. The perfect therapy, and aversion of midlife crisis.

    This is all to say that the educational doors that were opened up for me led to frustration. It took me a long time to realize that in order to really take control of my life, I need to open my own damned doors, even if it means kicking them in.

  28. I truly believe you are spot on Paul in your assessment of higher education today. It is ability that matters when on the job, irrespective of vocation.
    I to have a four year degree and that is an accomplishment and was hard work however, a degree is not the end all of cure all. Regrettably at least in the USA , a four year degree is often used by employees to limit the amount of applicants for a given position in many sectors of business. I for one, would gladly have been proud of my sons had they freely chosen to be cabinet workers, or furniture builders. That stated, I and my wife paid for there college educations and both fortunately are working in there chosen vocation that they went to college for.
    Unfortunately, the arrogance of people have been telling the younger generations that working with ones hands is some how beneath us. As a result at least in America, the building trades and industries such as The Lincoln Welding Company (and others) are now scrambling to find qualified young people who are willing to work in a trade, can pass a background check ( at least without a felony) and pass a drug test.
    In my view, the culmination of over emphasis on higher education, combined with certain social failures have resulted in educated idiots and a lack of individual initiative to achieve.

  29. I have a degree in Industrial Design. Due to our education and student loan system at the time it will be probably the cheapest loan I will have ever had. The last year of it I split into two due to needing an income which obviously required my own efforts elsewhere. I worked in a ceramics factory , production work ,starting in the dark and finishing just after lunch. I drew cartoons for a man who had a business supplying corporate cards to other businesses. I worked with my Father in building maintenance and carpentry. I made models for three quarters of the other students in my class for their graduation project. I developed an interest in the bicycle industry and worked in mechanics, retail and wholesale for ten years or so after graduating. The loan I paid in one hit. At the time an extremely generous discount was available if you did. You also did not have to pay it at all until you reached a certain income level. For that reason amongst others I also learnt how to do my own basic books. So, the reason I paid this generous loan at an extremely cheap rate was because of the monies I earned with my hands, which was spurred by a work ethic demonstrated to me by my parents along with a sense of not taking anything for granted and because of the very affordable system in place at the time. I think the loan totalled to about $7500 around 1999. My income fluctuated anywhere from $5 an hour to $150 an hour. The highest paying job was cleaning the debris out of storm drains with a very real chance of encountering a highly venomous snake hunting after the frogs that were in there. This wasn’t the reason for the ridiculously high pay rate, it was a fluke due to the quoted price and how fast we managed to do it. I have used the degree from university on any number of occupations. I haven’t regretted doing it, sometimes I would like to use it more specifically but I do use it. I made some enquiries about training in woodworking but they didn’t pan out for one reason or another although I kept self training almost constantly. Your life is what you can make of it, how best to obtain guidance for it can be a source of frustration and obfuscation . It can also be one of the most benevolent gifts bestowed upon us if we choose it to be. If you hold a passion for something and eyes are kept open then all the small jewels we come across can be gathered together for the benefit of ourselves and our loved ones. My parents never pushed me into anything with my education , they did tell me after the fact that they had considered a three year course in fine woodworking for me at one point. I am not sure as to the reasons why they did not . Maybe they saw I could make my own way enough to leave me to it. They certainly supported me however best they could , whatever it was that I was doing at the time. None of it has been a waste but I do think that fundamentally in Western society our general methodology, understanding and approach to ‘education’ does need some serious work.

  30. It’s not all bad. My son is at university studying film and video production. Filming and editing is something he loves doing and hopefully, once he’s got his degree, it will help him earn a living doing what he enjoys. Some might argue that his degree will be non-academic so therefore not a proper degree. However, he’ll learn skills in the classroom and through practice and placements which are specific to what he ultimately want to do. I suppose his degree is in effect more like an apprenticeship.

  31. I am sitting here in the states as a teacher (wishing I was a woodworker for my career but that’s another story!). Anyways, I watch the push every day for educators to find what interests children of all ages. Yet for all of the creativity we try to instill in our youth, we do a very poor job of really listening to their aspirations. We might say “you can be whatever you want to be” but what we really mean is “you can pursue any number of extracurricular interests as long as it helps you get into college and get a ‘real job’.” Sadly, I think we are on the verge of losing many of our trade experts, whether it be in manufacturing, plumbing, electrical, even carpentry, simply because we steer kids toward high education that they may not be interested in or really even ready for. I like what you said about friends not using their degrees. In my own undergraduate cohort, I believe may 5 out of 20 of us are really using their degrees, or at least their major. I for one wonder what my life would have been like had I found the opportunity to use my hands AND my brain doing something that I love. I do like teaching, but I do wonder! Great post!

    • “You can be whatever you want to be,” applied to young people, is something I have often heard, but it’s a lie.

      The unpalatable truth is, “You can be only what luck and your abilities make possible, so you’d better not waste you time, either at school or afterwards, whatever you choose to do. You have to have something to offer in the way of skill or expertise or knowledge, or personality; something which makes you attractive to your employer or your clients – whoever is providing you with a living. Without this, you will join the ranks of the losers.”

      No-one wants to hear this, of course, and many cannot take it in, which is not surprising, especially in the case of the young and inexperienced. Only as life unfolds does it become apparent that, for virtually everyone, you will get on well and be happy if you have something to offer. If you don’t, or if you are unlucky (as some are, through ill-health or other circumstances) it’s going to be grim.

      The good news is, aside from ill-luck, it’s down to the individual to make it work, so a useful, happy, fulfilled life *is* entirely possible. (But no-one is going to hand it to you.)

  32. So Paul you pen answers to false practises on Sundays
    You do most of your wood planing on Wednesdays
    And you work contently the rest of the week.
    What a good practice and an surgery you have 😉

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