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There’s a catch-22 with education.  You need an extensive education to get a job but most jobs are not long-term. This necessitates more education which takes a ton more time and resources.  

In the past some form of education was always needed for a livable wage in the modern industrial era.   It’s why we have a semi-socialized school systems. Used to be you would go to school and get an education through high school.  This would get you a stable job in manufacturing that provided a livable wage.  If you wanted more you went to college and got an education in something.   Colleges offered a compartmentalized chunk of knowledge that had a bow around it known as a degree.  In both cases you went into an industry and mostly stuck around your chosen field until retirement.

That was the past, today the median time on the job is four years and people jump careers and industries many times in their working life.   The root cause is the accelerated nature of the changing industries and economies.  The one two punch of technology and globalization got economies moving faster, and that means change happens much quicker. It could be a lifetime before there was substantive change in an industry in prior generations, today industries can grow and be wiped out in a manner of years.   

The technology that accelerated the economic change is also the reason why education is needed for most of today’s jobs that pay a livable wage. Jobs are simply more complicated. These days you don’t operate the machine, you have to program the machine or know how to fix the machine. Ideally each time you jump you need additional training to achieve a high level of competence in the new career..  To do the training right you need the formal educational component and you need the on-the-job component.  Both of these together, even if done simultaneously, take a tremendous amount of time.

The Catch-22 is that by the time an individual who has made a career or industry jump gets all of their credentials in place the dynamics of the industry may change so much that it’s time for another jump. Imagine if you owned the satellite business during the height of that particular industry, five years later you were most likely bankrupt.  Positions may be lost to tech, companies may move, the worker may find out that their personality isn’t really a good fit for the new industry. That necessitates getting training again. Back to school.  More investment, more time.  If done correctly the reality is education can have no end.

This is why it’s incredibly difficult to have a truly socialized education system that meets the needs of the workforce and the employers. There’s so much of a continuing need for training you could be in it half of your working life. If you’re in training the entire time then you’re not being productive enough to generate the tax revenues that pays for the system.  This leaves the current system which places much of the burden of cost of education on to the individual getting trained.  This process has natural limiters.  

Unless you fall into one of the very few  apprenticeship programs that pays for both the school time and the work time a major limiting factor is the need to provide living expenses while getting educated.  This goes up exponentially As you move through life and get greater responsibilities such as mortgages and family. You either don’t do it or take on a ridiculous burden of student loans that will take you the rest of your life to pay off.

The alternate option is double duty. You work full-time and go to school at night or where you can fit it in assuming a program exists that will facilitate your needs. If you do this at a pace where you can cash flow it,  IE your current job has enough income to allow you to both live and cash flow in your additional education one or two classes at a time, it will still usually take you years of extended effort to complete.  

If you get that education and it takes you five years to finish it who’s to say the primary high-paid job that education brings is still around at that high level of pay it was when you started the program? That’s the problem with a continuously evolving economy. Today’s high-paid job is tomorrow’s displaced position. Formerly safe Industries like education and medical are being disrupted more and more year by year. I’m even seeing disruption in the government space.

In a fantasy world the employers would hire people of all ages and walks of life.  The employer would pay them to get trained in a high quality program with a living wage with all of the commensurate benefits that are traditionally provided by good employers.  For many jobs this could take years. Unfortunately that world doesn’t exist.

This leaves the catch-22.  If you want to get ahead with your career transition, option one is to accept the treadmill of taking on high education debt.  The education commitment comes with with the chance of a mismatch to the career or potential displacement from disruption.  The only way out of it is more education and more education debt.  

Your other option is to choose to not take part. With no additional education, you lose the risk of being on an education treadmill but wind up with a much lowered  chance for jumping into the next high-tech or high growth opportunity.

There really is no great solution here, which  is is why I see it as a catch-22 and a sinkhole.  Catch 22s make good fodder for books and  films but they’re not exactly an ideal situation to find oneself in life. Being such difficult of a thing to deal with in life is exactly why they make for inspiration for great drama.  When you think about it that is an interesting Catch 22 in and of itself.

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Posted by Mike Peluso

Mike Peluso writes about the collision between between the business / professional world and life. He also writes about the journey involved with the Peluso Presents efforts including the Blog, Books, and Podcast so that others may benefit from his efforts. From Mike: I spend hundreds of hours working on these articles every year with no compensation other than support I get through donations. You can support with a tip and by Subscribing to the Podcast (and writing a review on iTunes would be really appreciated as well!) One time tips:

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