Knowledge vs. Skills – Which is more Important?

bookIn my previous post I suggested that many people should initially get a 2-year degree instead of a 4-year degree. There were many responses that this was a push to have many people obtain a lesser education with a subsequently lesser paying or less prestigious job. I think it is important to explore these beliefs before we make such statements.

In the last 50 years, our country and many other wealthy nations have put a premium on knowledge. You went to a 4-year university to acquire a wide range of historical and current knowledge. After which, you started your career and the employer trained you in the specifics of the job. You were a “company man,” meaning that you went to college and “payed your dues” — learned whatever they taught you — then you handed your college diploma to an employer, and they felt you had what it took to be employed with the company for life. The employer trained you, in most cases, with expensive training programs. And in most large companies, there were no layoffs, no downsizing, and if your job would have to be eliminated, you would be immediately transferred to an equal or higher paying position and subsequently trained on every new aspect of that job.

Oh, how this scenario is now changed. Employers expect you to hit the job running. There is little or no training, or guarantee that your job will even exist in the future. In this case, perhaps, it is safe to begin considering a different option for educating ourselves throughout life. Learn the skills FIRST, and then learn the knowledge, because knowledge and skills are equally important. By acquiring a 2-year degree first, you can concentrate your learning to a specific area, needed by employers. And the Math, English and other academic areas can be directly woven in, targeted, and directed to the specific skills to which they apply. It is a much safer option for most people.

I mentioned that my education was nearly opposite to this path. I went directly to college and then to graduate school. But my path into the real world was very rocky, to which, I believe, most people would not want to copy. I took contract work for 5 years. I moved every year to be near my position. I rented single rooms and payed by the month. I did this all to gain experience — skills, really in my field. It worked for me because I loved what I learned in college, so I was willing to pay the price for having no marketable skills after I graduated.

It’s safe to say that this path is a precarious one. A much safer path is to get the skills that employers want first. After you have worked for awhile, you can begin to focus on the knowledge. You can better direct your learning to the knowledge that will benefit you most. You can take on-line courses; you can stop working and go back to school — with some saved money, and even potentially some contributions from your employer.

Your knowledge will be more useful, purposeful, because you can direct it to a specific area. For example, perhaps you get a two-year degree as a machinist, network administrator, or hospital technician. Then later you get a Bachelor’s degree in Business. Now you are gaining the knowledge to best complement your skills. You can really hit the job running. I think it is time to re-examine the 2-year degree as less valuable than a four-year degree. If you do not absolutely have a passion for the knowledge that you are learning, a 4-year college education is not for you. Learn a skill that an employer wants and needs first. You will be happy that you did it, and the knowledge can always come later. You have a long life ahead of you. Spread the learning out throughout your life and be careful and thoughtful about your choices. You can do it!


About chbernat

I am a technical writer and instructional designer. I have an intense interest in adult learning and instructional design principles. I greatly feel that adults need to take control of their own learning in order to advance their knowledge and skills throughout life.
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