Having obtained BA and MA educations, having followed all the unwritten rules out there, I came to the conclusion that higher education and the labor market are not directly linked. And today, I am dreaming of putting all my energy into making a farm, producing healthy products. But before we get there, here are my hypothesis, and my advice: Don’t bother by your education, most probably you will end up working in a different field anyway.
Higher education and the labor market are not directly linked
When I was a child, my parents and relatives used to ask me the so usual question: “What will you do for a living when you grow up?” And I used to reply without hesitation that I want to become a gardener and take care of beautiful flowers. Years passed by, and eventually I decided to become a Political Scientist to perceive the world and build strong bonds with my ancient Greek ancestors; the political philosophers like Plato, Socrates, and Aristoteles. Many of my friends would then advise me to study a field that could offer me better prospects in the labor market after graduation. So, today, I am asking the question (mainly to myself): did I manage to overcome obstacles and follow a successful career?
The answer is no.
I am 34 years old, and although, I apart from the Political Science degree, I also gained an MSc in HR Management. And it seems it just didn’t work out. After years of self-criticism and dark thoughts, I came to a conclusion that you might not like to hear: Higher education and the labor market are not directly linked.
Why we all should be doctors and lawyers
The following two facts led me to this conclusions:
If we look around, we come across millions of people across the globe who do not work in the field relevant to their studies. As a Greek, I live in a labor market where unemployment has climbed to 30%. And of all the unemployed the percentage of young people is higher than 50%. In such a climate, who are those people who really work in their field of studies?
The convincing answer is that those, who managed to begin their career in their field before 2009, and those few, who are involved in highly-demanded fields even within the recession, and those are the IT Developers.
So why should we worry so much about the future workplace prospects of our profession at all?
Since the global recession forces the majority of people to work in different roles and most regularly even to work part-time at flexible and insecure roles, shouldn’t we at least choose a field of studies that matches our personal interest and preferences? This was hypothesis number one.
Here hypothesis number two:
Are we only destined to be mere productive units on the labor market or is there something more in higher education? I strongly believe that there is. The main purpose of higher education is to open horizons. To help people to enrich their characters, acquire knowledge that cannot be acquired at high-school and satisfy students’ academic curiosity.
To back up my assumptions, I turn to some interesting thoughts and data I’ve come across recently by reading ‘23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism‘ from Ha-Joon Chang; a Korean professor of economics at the Cambridge University.
Chang believes that the majority of people choose a profession based on career prospects. He gives an interesting example from the Korean education and labor market. He claims that the weak social care system of the country means that if an employee loses his job at the age of 40-50, it is almost impossible to re-enter the labor market. And in that case, the weak social care system means that this person will not be supported during his unemployment period by his country. Therefore, most of the students do the best they can to enter medical and law schools as those professions will provide them the chance to work as self-employed in case they are redundant in the future.
So did all those students have the dream of becoming doctors and lawyers?
Many people also claim that to make a difference in the labor market you have to be highly educated. At a first place, the author talks about education in general and supports that education is not highly linked to higher productivity, national prosperity and competitiveness. To support his claim, he presents comparative data from different countries.
Let’s see an example: during the 60’s, only 54% of people in Taiwan were literate compared to a 72% in the Philippines. Despite this disadvantage, Taiwan succeeded higher rhythms of productivity and national economic development compared to the Philippines. On the other hand, investment in education in many African countries between 1980-2004 didn’t bring the desired results either: the rate of per-person income declined by 0.3% each year.
Does higher education lead to higher economic development?
He also refers to a simple and clear example: Cashiers at Tech Stores at the Western World nowadays may not even be required to know how to make simple calculations as receipts are printed by using barcodes. However, they are probably more productive compared to the same employees 30 years ago who knew how to make calculations. Simply, this is the outcome of automatization. Τhe author supports that what generates national economic development is not investments in education, but the ability of a country to organize employees under productive companies by providing the right infrastructures.
On the other hand, the author highlights the impact of higher education in producing the nation’s competitive advantage of knowledge. He claims, for example, that a bus driver in Sweden may earn 50 times more than a bus driver in India not because of the differences in productivity, but because of the higher level staff in Sweden. Such as CEOs, IT Managers, Doctors, etc., that Swedish bus driver is 50 times more productive than the same person in India. As he states, this is the result of differences in infrastructures.
The author refers to a very contradictory example: Although Switzerland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, only 47% of young people enter higher education. On the contrary, this percentage is much higher in countries such as Greece (91%), Finland (94%), USA (82%), Argentina (68%). Someone could claim that Universities in Switzerland are better than in Greece or Argentina. But are they better compared to Universities in the USA?
The explanation is that percentages are so high in many countries due to demand for knowledge. And as there are so many graduates, employers demand graduates. Simple economics of supply and demand. If you do not hold a degree, you may be excluded from the selection process altogether. People used to continue their studies at a post-graduate or even Ph.D. level to stand out of the crowd. But at the same time, employers often say that graduates do not hold the right skills and that there is a talent gap in the labor market. Therefore, higher-education does not have a crucial impact on productivity if we compare it to such skills as creativity, management, organizational skills, etc.
So, productivity is not fostered by higher education but by the extent to which a country can provide infrastructures to companies, offer an effective legal system, or ensure a mentality of exporting goods, etc. And Switzerland is the most obvious proof for this approach.
I have nothing to fear anymore
So, to give an outline of what we just assessed:
– The majority of graduates will most probably have to work in a different field from that of their studies,
– This is due to the flexibility and insecurity in the labor market,
– Other professions may not require high level of education and yet contribute more to the national prosperity and personal income.
Thus, I firmly suggest that people should only study at a higher level if they like studying, and they study what they like. In other words, we shouldn’t directly link higher-education with the job market.
I studied Politics because I liked it. I never worked in my field, but I feel proud of what I have learned in my degree. I guess, I would also feel proud if a had been a gardener; I would certainly feel more useful than spending my life in an office in front of a PC, while facing daily with the complex office politics of confront, prejudice, bias on age, sex, race, employment gaps, lack of continuity; and all these mixed ‘ideas’ generated by recruiters, CEOs and businessmen in general.
Compared to the majority of Western people that dream of a calm, relaxing life after their retirement at the age of 65-70, I am already thinking beginning such a life much earlier. I am dreaming of putting all my energy into a farm, producing healthy products. That may upgrade my life and contribute to my disputed country, Greece, more significantly. Besides, I have nothing to fear now. I have studied what I wanted to study; I studied because I wanted to, and now I can change my life. At least I will try to since I have finally managed to separate higher education and that it must lead to related work.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Columnist at MissCareerLess
Konstantinos Voulgaris has studied Political Science at the National University of Athens, Greece. After completing his BSc, he continued his studies at the King’s College/University of London where he got specialization in Human Resources Management and Labor Relations in a post-graduate level. He has worked as a recruiter in the UK and Sweden. Moving back to Greece, he worked as a Public Relations executive for the Greek Foundation for Research and Technology and as a customer service representative at a major call center. He is currently searching for job opportunities in HR Management.
Edited by Virag
Featured photo credit: Flickr/Alex Beynon