By MEAGHAN ZIEMBA, Associate Editor, Product Design & Development (PD&D)
It’s been awhile since all of you have heard from me, and it’s because I’ve been isolated in my house, glued to my computer finishing up final papers and reports for grad school. I am working on my Masters for Professional and Technical Writing, and while that phrase alone may raise a few eyebrows, I get questioned more on why I believe it is important to continue my education.
As I get closer to graduation, I’ve noticed some negative stereotypes concerning those who have received higher-education degrees. Some believe that those who have pursued higher levels of education consider themselves better or more important. Others have pointed out how individuals with a higher-education background have lost touch with the basics and enter into fields with inexperience, which in turn can have detrimental circumstances.
The debate of whether or not a college education is the answer depends on the field of study.
For an English nerd like me, higher education will not just help improve my skills as a writer, but it will provide me with opportunities that will help donate to my daughter’s college fund -- if that is what she decides to do. In industries such as manufacturing and engineering, a higher level of education may hinder opportunities for growth in certain situations.
I base my opinion on a recent conversation that I had with a former employee of Beloit Corp. in Beloit, WI. For those of you unfamiliar with the company, it was founded in 1858 as Merrill and Houston Iron Works. It manufactured and produced paper machines and was a booming business until 1999 when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
As a current resident of Beloit, and as the daughter of a former employee of Beloit Corp., I can tell you that there are still bitter feelings over the closing of the business, especially from the employees who had generations of work on the shop floor. Beloit Corp. was a vital source to the city’s economy, and when it shut down a lot of families lost everything -- and they were not shy expressing their frustrations.
The former employee still harbored some hard feelings towards the situation, and after hearing his personal experiences, I completely agree with the sour tone. He had years of hands-on experience with the machines and could operate each in his sleep.
When Beloit Corp. came close to the end, the executives explained how new management was brought in -- the “higher-education” type. “The smart people sucked,” said the former employee. As a current grad student, I felt the sting of his insult. When I asked why he had such strong feelings against higher education, he replied, “They lack common sense and lose touch with the basics.” And I have to admit, I agreed.
When it comes to writing papers, editing and creative writing, I can pull something off in a matter of minutes -- on a good day anyways. Admittedly, I lack common sense in certain situations and sometimes the basics aren’t basic enough. I still use my fingers for simple math and I’ll never change my oil. But when it comes to managing a business that relies on producing quality products, some basic skills can only be acquired from hands-on experience.
If the big dogs up top don’t know how to operate the machines they are managing, they will continually run into challenges and obstacles, which could lead to the company’s demise.
Beloit Corp. is a prime example. According to the former employee, some young gun with a Masters degree was hired because of his knowledge on the business side of things, but didn’t have a clue when it came to the mechanics of the machines he was trying to sell. He didn’t know anything about the parts or how the machines operated, let alone the different types and functions. In other words, he knew none of the basics when he was doing business with top customers.
How is anyone supposed to sell anything if they don’t know the product?
For companies to be successful, the leaders have to know and understand how everything works. They need to know the basics in order to sail through the complexities. Fred Young of Forest City Gear is proof of this principle. Young started out on the shop floor of his father’s family business. He learned, from hands-on experience, how to make the perfect gear. The basics he learned at a young age are what continue to help him and the company grow and remain successful.
A higher level of education may have its advantages, but it can be a hindrance if the basics are placed on the backburner. I support anyone who wants to continue their schooling, but I also support those who have learned a skill, took years to perfect it, and in a way, turned it into a unique art. That’s what our industrial history was built from … the basics.
What are your thoughts? Is pursuing a higher education a waste of time? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.