By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
Many of my young clients (or their parents) ask about the role of higher education in preparing for the world of work. In my well-known humility, I always prefer to offer guidance from someone smarter than me, for example, Albert Einstein. He once said, “The only thing that gets in the way of my learning is education.”
I don’t recall that the great professor was a job coach, but job hunters should pay attention to his words. He is telling us that there are two processes. Learning is each individual’s self-motivated drive to acquire information, insight, and analytical tools, all of which he uses to reach his own goals, whether in expanding the body of human knowledge, producing something of value, or enriching the lives of others. Education is the effort of others to provide access to learning. Everyone must define their goals in terms of learning. A learner uses educational opportunities but understands that there will always be more that he needs to learn. He constantly seeks additional opportunities, both formal and informal, for building his skillset and knowledge base. He is driven to seek more insight, ask more questions, and look at something in an entirely new way.
Once upon a time, becoming educated was seen as a value in itself. Education was seen as liberating the mind, enabling people to think creatively and to accomplish great things. The most universal goal of societies in the last 70 years has been to increase access to education as a means of increasing human happiness and freedom. But what has been noticed along the way is that there are a lot of people who become very educated yet remain as unhappy and unfree as before, and some people whose visions enable us to see, who have shared the fruits of their learning in ways that truly liberate us.
In job-search terms, the difference between education and learning is easy to understand. Educated people can provide interesting conversation while they draw your skinny double latte. Learners have the drive which enables them to do a job better than anyone else, and do it even better tomorrow. Some learners may use education to acquire the tools they want. Others may learn from experience, apprenticeship, reflection, self-guided study, or synthesis. The key is that they are relentless in pursuing and using the knowledge they want. Nothing will stop them from finding it.
Whether someone is beginning their working life or got sidetracked in the middle somewhere, education is often seen as opening the way to new opportunities. After the crash of 2008, millions of people were guided to retraining or even whole new degrees. Almost none of which led to new jobs. Because these people were receiving education, but they had not taken the responsibility to learn.
There are more opportunities for education today than ever in history. On-campus, online, liberal arts, professional, core requirements, create your own major, certificates, degrees-unlimited! At costs that run from high to astronomical. If what you really want is “hire” education, i.e., you want to end up with a job, then before you look at the menu, you need to look at yourself. Before you ask what education will do for you, you need to decide what you want to learn. If you aren’t ready to make that decision, then education will be an expensive waste of time. If well-meaning people are telling you to take a few courses while you decide, that’s even worse. A far better path would be to start working at a job you can do with the skills and background you have now, while you use networking and research to identify new options.
Taking responsibility for your own learning is the most important step on the way to hire education. No course, no degree, can give you all the skills you need to succeed. From the day you start your first job, your first class—the first day of the rest of your life—you must constantly take advantage of opportunities to build skills and develop talents, always striving to acquire that set of tools that is uniquely yours.
Some people see education as a value in and of itself. They would be far better off if they would look at it like Einstein. v
Rabbi Mordechai Kruger is the founder and director of Pathways to Parnassa, an organization providing job-search and career coaching to our community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.