I have two friends who have bad attitudes, and I think their views are shared by a lot of people in manufacturing.
Both of the guys run successful companies. One is president of a family-owned machine shop and the other is president of a service division for a much larger corporation.
Combined they have sales of more than $40 million and regularly make payroll for nearly 40 employees. By any measure, they are successful, and they often make hard decisions for the businesses that they run based on their experiences and the skills they’ve acquired over the years.
The fact that they and their business are — and have been — successful is proof of their intelligence and shrewdness. And, if you take the typical American measure, they’re both more successful than I am. They drive better cars, they live in bigger houses and they have nicer watches.
However, they think their problem is that neither one of them had a college degree. In fact, both are quick to say that they barely made it through high school. They apologize for that, and they say they are glad to have found careers that led to successful lives.
They are embarrassed over their accomplishments because they think they don’t have the credentials to back them up. That’s wrong.
In light of the constant need for skilled workers in manufacturing, having industry leaders — successful people in manufacturing — who talk down their accomplishments only cater to the vast number of parents and education counselors that advise young people to pursue a college degree no matter how unsuitable it may be for them.
There are plenty of young people for whom what’s learned in colleges and universities is not right for what they are going to do in their lives. They are intelligent, but don’t do well in school, and learn a lot in other ways that make them very successful.
That is the message that has to be presented to parents and education counselors.
They have to be convinced that a college education is not the only ticket to success in the world today, and the best persons to deliver that message are the people who are successful and who have made their success without a college degree.
In thinking about the people I know who have college degrees but who don’t use them in their daily lives, I am convinced that they would have been better served if they were better directed toward an apprenticeship program or a technical school than to a university.
The idea of higher education — especially higher education for everyone — is relatively new, and has gained common acceptance because, I think, the very people who would question it, who would study it and critically examine it are the academics -- the same people who benefit most from it, so they are reluctant to say that it might not be a good idea.
On the other hand, there are countless numbers of extraordinary people — think of Michelangelo and Abraham Lincoln — who made great impact on the world without the benefit of a college degree. Michelangelo showed at a very young age that he had no interest in school and classical learning, and he served an apprenticeship in painting and sculpture. Likewise Lincoln, the quintessential backwoodsman, was self-educated and “read” law — rather than go to college — to gain admittance to the bar. Becoming a lawyer was his first step towards the White House.
Certainly, a lot has changed since Lincoln gained the White House, but the fact that there are so many shop owners and managers — and several are my friends — who have become successful without a college degree confirms that it continues to be possible to be successful without one, and disproves the idea that the only way to become successful is to get a degree.
The guys that do that have to stop talking themselves down.
They have to start bragging about it, and when they do we’ll see trade schools and apprenticeship programs start to fill up with the young people we need in manufacturing.