I have had many discussions about the value of a college diploma. In thinking about those discussions, I have come to one important conclusion: the key to finding a career that provides the benefits you need is to make yourself as irreplaceable as possible. Putting it simply, the easier you are to replace, the less your employer will care about you. That sounds harsh, but it’s true.
This doesn’t mean you need to go to college. It means you have to do as much as you can to separate yourself from as much of the competition as you can in a job market that is getting more crowded by the day. If college isn’t your thing, go to a trade school or obtain a professional license. Having a qualification that is more than a high school diploma and/or an associates degree will benefit you for the rest of your life.
Let me illustrate this point with three examples. Person number one works at a call center. They make 15 dollars an hour. Their job comes with limited health insurance, no pension, no family medical leave, and no union protection. This person is totally at the mercy of their employer. Both the employee and the employer know almost anyone can learn to do their job in a relatively short time. To replace them, the employer doesn’t need or require any specialized training on the part of the employee. The employer can terminate the employee at any time and for any reason.
Person number two hated school, but they got a specialized truck driving license. They make roughly $70,000 a year. Their health insurance is pretty good. They have a basic pension plan and the chance to invest in a 401K. As a member of a union, important aspects of their job are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. They can only be fired for cause. Overtime is governed by seniority. The most important parts of their employee status can’t be changed unless the contract is updated with their input.
Person number three is a doctor. They are making $200,000 annually. They are guaranteed six weeks vacation. They have a wide range of health care plans from which to choose. They have a 401K where much of what they contribute is matched by their employer. Even though their employment isn’t governed by a collective bargaining agreement, both the doctor and their employer know the employee’s skills are in high demand. If the employee becomes too dissatisfied with the conditions, of their employment, the employee will have very little problem finding another high-salaried position. This forces the employer to care at least a little bit about the doctor’s satisfaction. If the doctor is a recognized expert, they can pretty much call their salary. After all, they would be nearly impossible to replace.
No matter how you feel about education that goes beyond high school, you should understand that the more you do to strengthen your resume–the better the working world will treat you. You may wish for the days when a high school diploma was good enough, but those days are gone. As automation claims more-and-more positions, the key to finding success in a career will be one’s ability to provide something that can’t easily be provided by most people or machines.