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“The More You Learn, the More You Earn”

Filling the learning void

Published: Wednesday, September 16, 2009 - 15:54

As companies downsize, they cut down on the number of employees, or move, or close, and thousands find themselves without jobs in a highly competitive job market that they never anticipated. A 55-year-old former NCR systems engineer is in line for jobs along with whiz-bang new college graduates, as well as other laid-off former engineers. In some areas, such as northeastern Vermont, unemployment is more than 22 percent.

Any edge, however small, that a candidate has over other applicants is critical—and a record of lifelong learning in one’s profession may provide that edge. Quality professionals and others are finding that professional development while on the job is essential to their continuous growth, and may indeed help them find another job if they are laid off, or make the difference when a company is deciding which positions to cut. Those who are unable to find work are returning to the classroom to enhance their professional skills.

In terms of formal education, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has demonstrated a correlation between level of education and not only salary levels, but unemployment levels as well. “New data tell an old story,” the Bureau asserts. “The more you learn, the more you earn—and the less likely you are to be unemployed.” http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/1999/fall/oochart.pdf and www.census.gov/compendia/statab/tables/09s0681.xls

Beyond this correlation with formal education levels, on-the-job training experiences and seminars can enhance one’s position and demonstrate a commitment to ongoing learning that may prove critical if one is called upon to retrain in a new position.

In some countries, governmental programs aim to encourage employee training and promote lifelong learning in the workplace. Ireland, for example, offers “One Step Up” to encourage on-the-job learning as well as retraining for the unemployed. In this country, the Department of the Interior’s Human Resources Division points out that on-the-job learning opportunities are among the best ways to develop ongoing professional development. The department encourages developing a plan for on-the-job learning, rather than approaching it in a haphazard way, and this same dictum applies to individuals who undertake learning on their own. Planning for professional development can be part of an employee’s annual goals, outlining subjects to be covered, number of hours involved, estimated completion date, and ways to evaluate the training.

Technical skills can be enhanced by online training in using specific software programs. Webinars that don’t require travel or time away from the office are a good investment of resources, since they often demand only a couple of hours to enhance learning about a particular software program or statistical concept. Online learning opportunities are cropping up at an unprecedented rate.

Evaluating the value of online webinars and other training opportunities is essential. When resources are limited, using them in unproductive or ineffective ways represents a giant waste. How does one know if training will be useful? A few good questions might be considered before enrolling in a program.

Is the training offered by a legitimate source?
If you want to enhance your cooking skills, you would turn to an experienced chef or cooking school, not a fly-by-night center that generates whatever training is popular. Check the credentials of the organization offering the training. Ask whether their training is consistent with their core competencies as demonstrated in the services or products they provide.

Are the trainers themselves fully trained and experienced?
Before you sign up for training, use the internet to find out what you can about those who are leading it. The training company’s own web site should provide biographies for its trainers. We’ve all had the experience of feeling that we may actually know more than the instructors in some training situations.

Will the content enhance your job skills?
Learning a new software program that you will never use in the workplace would be a waste of time, of course. On the other hand, pursuing training in software that you are currently using may help expand your ability to utilize its full functionality.

Is the cost commensurate with the value?
The days of four-day conferences or travel to exotic places for workshops is gone. Technology has filled this void, with inexpensive online training or webinars that bring learning to one’s desk, rather than demanding expensive travel and substantial registration investments.


In the wake of the economic downturn, consumers are becoming more canny about their shopping patterns to be sure that their purchases are appropriate and their resources go as far as possible. The same awareness applies to training decisions. Organizations as well as individuals are scrutinizing expenses to make sure that the use of their resources is maximized.

As for an individual’s own professional growth and development—well, it’s always better to have a little extra learning in your pocket, just in case.




About The Author

Matthew J. Savage’s picture

Matthew J. Savage

Matthew J. Savage, formerly managing director for PQ Systems Europe, is the support and training manager at PQ Systems headquarters in Dayton, Ohio. He has worked extensively with technical advisory teams and provided on-site consulting and training in statistical process control for manufacturing, healthcare, and service organizations worldwide. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati, Savage earned a master’s degree from Wright State University. He has been a presenter at major quality conferences in England and the United States, and has published articles in a variety of trade publications.


Perpetuating myths

"(T)he Bureau of Labor Statistics has demonstrated a correlation between level of education and not only salary levels, but unemployment levels as well. “New data tell an old story,” the Bureau asserts. “The more you learn, the more you earn—and the less likely you are to be unemployed.”

Yes, but as we all know, correlation does not prove causation. When I finally finished college, I had a spectacular education: a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities, a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, concentrations in International Studies and Religious Studies, a minor in Biology, and more miscellaneous free electives than I can count. Add to that a pilot's license and two courses at the National Outdoor Leadership School, and you had somebody who could be useful in all kinds of situations. My first job after college? sweeping the floor of an electroplating factory on the northwest side of Chicago. No employer has ever been the least bit interested in my education; what they've all wanted is experience. Now that I have experience, I am in demand in my field, but I could have been a high school drop-out and still ended up right where I am today.

There is this myth that gets perpetuated that better jobs and employment follow from better education-- that employers look for education-- but I can't point to one shred of evidence that bears this relationship out. There is a strong correlation, certainly, but that correlation can be explained by the habits of mind which drive one to get an education being the same habits of mind that lead to success in the working world. Go read "A Message to Garcia" for an employer's perspective on this. (You'll find it easily on the internet.) Employers don't care much about education because nobody cares what you are-- people care what you do. It is doing, not being, that rules the day.

The people who most want us to believe that education leads to employment are probably the colleges themselves. When colleges were first established in the Middle Ages, they were vehicles for self-improvement, a means for those fortunate to attend them to develop into well-rounded human beings. In the last fifty years or so, we've seen colleges turn into vocational schools; their student bodies and tuitions have swelled, while their academic offerings have become more diverse and inane. (I know one person who's actually majoring in "real estate management," for crying out loud.) College students and society as a whole would be better off if we shifted college educations back towards things like the Liberal Arts and held no illusions about college being a road to employment. To do that we have to stop perpetuating this myth that education equals a job.