Bad Advice – “Get a good degree so you can get a good job”

Posted: September 10, 2014 in Christians & Culture, Economics, Education, Politics

blue collarHow many times have you heard someone say, “You need to go to college so you can get a good job and make good money.” I think there are all sorts of issues with this statement, but before I expound, let me share with you a problem I believe is continually getting worse – a lack of skilled trades labor. A 2013 article by Forbes magazine places a spotlight on this growing problem. Here is an excerpt.

“For the last three years, according to ManpowerGroup, the hardest segment of the workforce for employers to staff with skilled talent hasn’t been registered nurses or engineers or even web developers. It’s been the skilled trades – the welders, electricians, machinists, etc. that are so prevalent in manufacturing and construction. But if these skilled-trades workers are difficult to find now, as Manpower’s survey indicates, just wait a few years. The skills gap is likely to become more acute. If the skills shortage is debatable today,” economic development consultant Brian Kelsey wrote last year, “it likely won’t be at some point in the future.”[1]

My own personal and professional experience has left me with similar concerns. Qualified, professional contractors are hard to come by. Skilled craftsmen with integrity and professional excellence are few and far between. Finding skilled “blue-collar” workers is difficult as well. Have we perhaps created the problem we are facing? I think so.

Let’s look once again at the common statement heard by many young people. “You need to go to college so you can get a good job and make good money.” Or perhaps coming from an educator it may sound like this: “We need to prepare you to go to college so you can get a degree and get a good job.” There are a couple of assumptions built into these statements that are faulty and must be corrected.

The first faulty assumption is that education is primarily as a means to get one a job. Virtue, knowledge, and learning are not seen as goods in and of themselves, but only tools to get a job. How sad! We discount the beauty of math and think, “I just need to make it through this course so I can get my diploma.” We discount art or music and think, “I just need to get this elective.” But the goal of education is to learn art, music, math, science, literature, etc. because these are good things. They are the study of God’s world and the beauty encapsulated in it. When we reduce education to a mere practical tool, then we ruin education! Now education certainly has utility in our careers, but this should not be the primary aim.

Additionally, this mindset causes us to equate blue-collar jobs, or the jobs that are not “good” in the culture’s eyes, with ignorance and lack of education. Therefore, people are reluctant to pursue a blue-collar career because they associate that particular vocation with ignorance and lack of education, when otherwise this would be an excellent career choice. What a shame!

The second faulty assumption with the statement “You need to go to college so you can get a good job and make good money,” is it implies certain jobs are good and others are inferior. Good jobs, by the modern materialistic standard, are those that grant both power and money. In essence, we have turned the education process into a race where students are clambering to obtain as much power and money as possible. Therefore, a job that does not provide significant amounts of money or power is considered inferior.

However, according to Biblical standards, wealth and power are not the markers of what is good and excellent. Rather, a good job would be defined as something quite contrary to the modern notion. First, a good job is one that serves others, bringing value and flourishing to their lives. Second, a good job is one that maximizes your own unique set of gifts and talents. Finally, a good job allows you to provide for the needs of those who depend on you. If you have a career that meets these three objectives, then you have a “good” job, regardless of the money or power you possess.

These two faulty assumptions have done great damage to the skilled trades of blue-collar America. I believe the skilled trades will get weaker and weaker as society perpetuates these two errors. We need a revolution of thought. We must restore the value of blue-collar work by redefining what is a “good” job. Additionally, we must rethink our idea of the purpose of education, shifting from utility to the intrinsic good of virtue coupled with knowledge. If our culture experienced a paradigm shift, we would see a renewed interest in skilled trades and a better educated workforce, regardless of job title.




  1. Kathy Tong says:

    Great post!

    Kathy Tong, Controller

    Frantz Building Services, Inc.

    1326 West Ninth Street

    Owensboro, KY 42301

    Phone: (270) 685-5383

    Fax: (270) 685-7097

  2. Nick Lampe says:

    True true. I am a social studies education major at Corban University, and one of my professors (Dr. Scott Bruce) says this exact thing. As an education major I struggled over what we should teach and why for the first three years I studied due to the confused messages from text books and professors. Now as a senior I finally see the big picture. Centered on the Christian worldview/objective truth its the basics that matter: developing thinking skills, literacy, morals, and living out the love of Christ. The naturalist philosophy permeating modern education often churns out narrow minded students (even if they are highly skilled) focused only on making money and becoming “Successful”. Christians must train students in thinking and literacy skills to make a difference in the world. Explicitly dismantling naturalism philosophy in the classroom is a great place to start.

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