Is Higher Education Helpful or Harmful for you?

Updated on 2024/03/21– “Go to college or get a job.” That’s how it used to be for young adults transitioning from the golden days of high school to the grind of starting a career. If you chose to get a job you usually were setting a course for a blue-collar career. After a suitable period of apprenticeship, you could expect to earn a living wage, but you’d already be invested in your career. Going to college was a separate path altogether.

That’s no longer the case for those coming of age and entering the workforce. Landing a blue-collar job with good long-term prospects is much tougher coming out of high school. For many of the better-paying ones, some form of post-secondary education or certification is often required, in addition to the deep experience.

Should you play up your education if you are looking for blue-collar work? More to the point, do blue-collar employers really value the investment in education that job seekers bring to the role? Does it make you look competitive, like someone they’d better snap up? Or does it make you look overqualified, like someone who will outgrow the role very quickly?

Nice work if everyone gets it

I wanted to see exactly how education performs on the blue-collar job market, right where the rubber meets the road; that is where the resume meets the job. I found out that although education enhances job qualifications, it is not the best way to demonstrate skills, at least on the resume.

Here’s how It unfolds.

Overall, workers are entering the workforce with more education than ever before. Almost two-thirds of Millennial-aged jobseekers in my study had some form of higher education: 19 percent listed a two-year degree on their resumes, 36 percent included a four-year degree, while another 10 percent had graduate degrees.

In comparison, 26 percent of Millennial-aged job seekers listed at least one professional certificate or license on their resumes, less than Generation X-aged jobseekers.

Yet, post-secondary education is often not relevant for blue-collar roles I found that blue-collar job seekers included higher education and post-secondary certifications much more frequently on their resumes than employers asked.

That translates into a lot of friction between blue-collar job seekers and employers in how they value educational qualifications. The highest friction was found in so-called non-professional occupations, where job skills transfer easily to another employer. In such occupations, employers tend not to regard degrees, certifications, and licenses as adding value, even though most jobseekers dutifully list them on their resumes.

And how does that play out on the job market? Many blue-collar job seekers end up pursuing roles for which they are overqualified, overeducated, and ultimately under-paid. As far as employers are concerned, such candidates are not likely to turn into permanent ones.

Three tips for blue-collar job seekers

Consider downplaying educational and professional credentials when applying for non-professional occupations where job skills transfer very easily to another employer. Coming on too strong about your educational background can easily make you look overqualified, which in turn could peg you as a potential job hopper.

For occupations where certifications or licenses are standard, pay extremely close attention to the ones employers list as requirements in their job ads, including any special designations. Be sure to highlight each one that you have on your resume. Blue-collar employers often make their first cut based on how well candidates are cleared for hire.

Keep a record of all published job ads for roles that really interest you, and make a list of the required skills, education, certifications, and licenses that regularly appear. You might be able to save a lot of time and money by not chasing educational credentials that employers don’t value highly while focusing on educational programs that enhance the skills that really matter to them.

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Brian is a founding writer at Urban Kenyans. His work is focused on how to improve the digital literacy of Kenyans online. He has been able to do so with his mastery of Kenya and the English Language.

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