You Are More Than a Piece of Paper

You Are More Than a Piece of Paper

If you’ve just reached the milestone of completing your degreediploma, or even perhaps your Nitec or Higher Nitec certification, the chances are that you’re planning the next steps towards your career of choice or exploring options to further your studies. Everything seems fine and dandy with the job search until it’s not.  

The reality is that the job market is saturated with graduates such as yourself. While employers like relatively young and inexpensive candidates, they will most likely look at the work experience the candidates possess. Since education has become more accessible, and not limited to the privileged few, we are not short of qualified job applicants seeking for a slice of the workforce pie.  

This is not to say that education is by all means, not imperative. Getting a degree or other professional and postgraduate qualifications, remain the hot commodity today as it was yesterday. Some people went to great lengths to demand the right to an education, and someone even became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize for it. You might be familiar with Malala Yousafzai – at the age of seventeen (in 2014), she survived an assassination attempt for speaking out against restrictions imposed on girls’ education 

In the same vein (albeit for an entirely different motivation), some thirty-three rich and influential parents of college applicants were charged in 2019. They paid more than USD25 million between 2011 and 2018, to William Rick Singer to influence undergraduate admissions decisions at several top American universities. Among those parents were actresses, Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. Even among the privileged, the prestige that comes with graduating from an Ivy League school is still not lost. Some are willing to pay an extra premium for it.  

The role of education gets diluted when we peg the wrong values to it. The number one reason students have for investing so much money and time into higher education is to get a good job or “financial stability”. In determining what the “return on investment” is supposed to be, we have to ask ourselves: 

Is it just about earning more money? 

Is the purpose of education to enable you to get a good job? 

What, in short, is a degree or diploma for?  

We should think beyond paper – by valuing the actual process of learning or absorbing knowledge as much as the paper chase. A substantial proportion of the future jobs will be hard to predict, except for the fact that they require very different skills than that displayed by graduates today. The future potential of the workforce will depend on its ability to create learnability, rather than cumulating credentials per se. The reality in today’s digital-first world is that – we need to teach every generation to learn, unlearn and re-learn quickly so that they can transform the future of work, rather than be transformed by it. 

While the number of tertiary graduates keeps rising, there is a general questioning of how their qualifications translate and are relevant to work. Many employers express reservations about the graduates’ potential to add immediate value to the workplace. Some roles such as Business Development require the candidates to possess “real-world” skills like problem-solving and people managementPersonal qualities such as empathy, patience, resilience, and the ability to think quickly in challenging situations are crucial “soft skills” that many employers seek in their interviewees before making hiring decisions. Suffice to say, having a positive working attitude helps too.  

Another school of thought champions the attainment of “vocational” skills to meet the short-term industry needs, through postsecondary certification programs. To make it easier for employers to identify competent workers, a litany of badges and certificates are issued to purportedly signal proficiency. These proxies can be stacked to warrant a conferral similar to that of a university degree. It’s assumed that learners of any age will independently bring coherence to and cultivate a depth of understanding from the various experiences. Granted, such short-term vocational programs are critically important to meet the demands of the current workforce and are well-suited for many people. However, there are no shortcuts to learn to think and build a sense of self.  

Albert Einstein once said, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think”. Higher education is not the only chance to learn this, but it is the best. For now, at least. It is only through the act of establishing communication between the mind and the heart, the mind, and experience, that you become an individual, a unique being – a soul. The job of a higher learning institution is to assist you to begin to do that. Books, ideas, works of art and thought, the pressure of the minds around you that are looking for their answers, in their own ways – play a part in developing your sense of self. That is why an undergraduate experience devoted exclusively to career preparation is four years largely wasted.  

The long and short of this article gives credence to the importance of education. But it is equally important to be cognizant of the changing landscapes in workplaces, societal institutions, and the world order. It is going to take more than your degree or diploma to navigate and manage the increasingly complicated and challenging environment. To thrive, you need equal parts accumulated wisdom, interpersonal and practical competencies. It is not enough to just be book smart.  

Your best bet is to start accumulating experience on your resume by interning or taking part-time roles for companies in your aspired career fields. Try volunteering in non-profit organisations or charities. When travel is permissible again, take the opportunity to intern or volunteer overseas to learn and assist in global issues. Not only are you able to experience different cultures, but this will surely enhance your emotional intelligence and develop the “soft skills” that are transferable to your work and personal endeavours.  

 Let us know if you found this article useful. Look at our career guidance page for more tips on securing your dream job!   

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