Deciding on Graduate School

While many advise that getting a grad school degree provides you with the ability for higher long-term earnings, I’d say it really depends. Book after book such as Robert Reich’s “The Future of Success” and Richard Florida’s “The Rise of the Creative Class” flog the merits of the advanced degree in today’s so-called “knowledge economy.” However, there is a growing lack of skilled tradespeople – individuals who often earn $50/hour and up, many of whom work flexible schedules. There is also a glut of overeducated, underemployed individuals with non-science, non-business degrees (you know who I’m talking about, fellow humanities grads) who find it increasingly difficult to find suitable, rewarding jobs. One of the main pitfalls of higher education is the lack of preparation it provides for dealing with the real world: how to put a resume together, how to interview successfully, how to network effectively, how to leverage your skills. These intangibles are often addressed in the skilled trades through apprenticeships available at a much cheaper and more easily accessible route than the equivalent in higher education (regardless of the field you’re in – business, science, medicine, arts or the humanities – the skilled trades often supply business-ready skills much faster and more cheaply than in other fields).

In Canada as just one example, there is a growing deficit of instructors for the skilled trades, mainly because of the shift in the workforce preparing for what everyone believes to be the growing knowledge economy. Let’s face it, a toilet’s a toilet, and electrical wiring isn’t going to be replaced by some kind of sci-fi inspired safe air electrical transmission: we’re always going to need carpenters, plumbers and electricians of all sorts (home, industrial, and everywhere in-between).

If nothing else, today’s constantly shifting knowledge economy teaches the necessity for remaining flexible and open to sometimes radical changes. So if you do decide to get that grad degree, just think about taking on that carpentry training on the side. Or getting your plumbing license after you’re done with coursework. Besides the pleasures of working with your hands, chances are you never know if you’ll need those skills in today’s tough job market while you’re waiting for that dream job to come along. And hey, worst-case scenario, you’ll be able to do your own repairs and maybe even pay some of your way through expensive grad school. Best of luck!