Education has become something of a go-to during the Great Recession. Millions of workers have lost their jobs since the end of 2007, and suddenly the job market was filled with educated, experienced workers. Skilled professionals with a decade or more of experience found themselves competing against younger, less experienced professionals who had a better grasp of new and emerging technology and trends. Heading back to the classroom quickly became an attractive – and in some cases necessary – step toward finding a job.
In a recent New York Times article, Steven Greenhouse took a look at professionals returning to school and their reasons. As you might expect, many workers want to refresh their skills and catch up on the changes that occurred since they graduated. For the unemployed, closing a gap in skill levels is their best chance to get their résumés on the top of the stack. For employed workers, it’s a way to advance in the company and stay ahead of job seekers applying for jobs.
“Some people have worked at a prosperous company for five years and are eager to move up, or are unemployed and eager to reinvent themselves. Still others are in an industry where successive waves of downsizing have made job security seem shaky. And more of them are concluding that if there is an answer to their problems, it’s more education.”
Returning to school is not as simple as deciding to get any degree or take a few courses and see the job offers and higher salaries pour in. Continuing education students can earn a degree, earn a certification or take only the classes that interest them. The important things, as Greenhouse notes, are to know what you want and to find a program that gives you the proper guidance. Not every industry is the same, much less every employer. A second master’s degree won’t give every person a boost, and in the end you could end up losing plenty of time and money.
The Times story continues: “Any good continuing education program, [dean of the University of Minnesota’s college of continuing education Mary Nichols] said, takes an individualized approach to its students. ‘We’re not in the business of steering people toward things,’” she said. ‘We’re in the business of helping people capitalize on their strengths and put together ways to build on their interests and passions.’
“Cathy A. Sandeen, dean of continuing education at U.C.L.A., suggested, ‘Look at trends in your field. Look at your current skills and what do you need to augment your skills to make you more relevant and more attractive in your field.’”
Greenhouse, Nichols and Sandeen make a good point that many job seekers forget: Education is a serious commitment, and unless you have plenty of time and money at your disposal, returning to school comes with tradeoffs. The time you’ll spending in class, studying and researching means less time with your significant other, family or DVR.
And you’ll need to pay for this schooling, which might be difficult if you’re unemployed. If you are employed, perhaps your employer has a continuing education benefit that covers some or all of the cost. Either way, crunch the numbers, consult the financial aid department and look for grants and scholarships. Education is an investment, yes, but you want to be certain you’ll recover the cost of that investment.
For one of the interviewees in Greenhouse’s article, the cost was less damaging than not returning to school.
“[Engineer Raul Torres], who had been laid off from his job as a senior database marketing analyst at Scholastic, said that before taking [a weeklong course in digital marketing], he had been getting many job interviews.
‘They kept asking me whether I had any Web analysis experience, any experience in search engine marketing, search engine optimization or mobile marketing,’ he said. ‘I had to say no, and that hurt my chances.’”
Fortunately, the time and effort paid off with a new job.
Judging from your responses to a recent post asking what reasons you’ve heard for not getting a job, education is a common response. Have you returned to school, taken online courses, earned a certification or mulled over any other education options recently? Let us know what you’ve done and what worked (and didn’t work) for you.