Education

Investing in your future

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Is a post-secondary education really the only way to make it in this world?

“An education is necessary to become a police officer,” Constable
Jason Lefebvre confides as he watches the Whyte Avenue crowds flow by,
“though not my education specifically.” Off-duty with his family
at a popular ice-cream stop, Lefebvre, a dispatcher and 911 evaluator for the
Edmonton Police Service, has two diplomas from Vancouver’s Langara
College and earned over $50,000 last year. He’s taken a number of
courses through the department and is currently enrolled in a Police
Management course at the University of Alberta. “You’re always
upgrading your education since law, policy and public expectations are always
changing,” he says. “You can’t be a cop if you don’t
want to keep learning.”

As students, we’re told that more education means more income (although
it’s not necessarily a direct relationship, as any newly minted B.A.
graduate will tell you). In 2001, Statistics Canada reported that a
university graduate in Alberta earned an average of $50,069—almost
double the $25,789 earned by your average high-school graduate. As the level
of education increases—from high school to a college diploma or trade
certificate, to a University degree and beyond—earnings increase
accordingly. And it’s inspiring to note that the number of Canadians
with a high-school education or less dropped from 68 per cent in 1986 to 56
per cent in 2001. As employment standards rise in nearly every field, we are
finding it more and more important to seek post-secondary education.

Of course, some would disagree. “My education certainly hasn’t
helped me – I’m still doing what I did before I went to
school!” Sharla Kyncl laughs, lining up four shot glasses and dropping
a perfect ounce of Jack Daniels in each. A server and bartender for almost a
decade, she took her marketing diploma from NAIT because she thought she
should get some sort of broader education under her belt. “I
don’t really have a career; I feel like I’m just doing something
while I enjoy my life. It’s this little voice at the back of my head
that sounds like my mother, telling me I need to prepare for a career.”
Making between $30,000 and $40,000, Kyncl is certainly doing well and
isn’t unhappy, but she’s wary of being squeezed out by younger
staff. “I think I should find something soon. If I were 100 per cent
sure of what I wanted to do, I’d definitely go to school. But as it is,
I don’t want to lose more time or take on more debt for the sake of an
uncertainty.”

Both certain and satisfied, technical writer Roy Fisher remains at the first
career position he accepted. A self-proclaimed “classically
overeducated yuppie” with two university degrees, his income recently
surpassed $50,000. “Technical writing is precisely as exciting as it
sounds. I do enjoy it: I get to use both sides of my brain regularly: the
quasi-artistic and the somewhat technical.” Computer Science and
English degrees from the University of Alberta made him ideally suited for
his position and he’s happy where he is while he pursues personal
projects on the side. Fisher deliberates carefully when asked about his
regrets. “I would have partied more during university,” he
eventually replies, tilting his iced coffee to get at the dregs with his
straw. “I would have taken another year to finish, one less course per
semester, spent time meeting people and finding out about myself. I might
have discovered something new or a different path to take in my
education—either way, I would have been in a better frame of mind to do
something about it without the huge workload.”

Sheldon Duby, however, has no regrets about his education and its profitable
results. “I couldn’t have done it otherwise. What I do now is a
direct result of what I did after high school.” A master electrician
and independent contractor at 24, he was too busy to meet with me during the
day, so we hooked up in the evening for a quick picture after a hurried phone
interview. He blazed through a four-year apprenticeship at NAIT, taking
classes for two to three months a year and working the rest of the time. He
took his master’s in night classes and has run his successful
contracting business, Sheltech Electric, for the past three years. He would
recommend the program to anyone, and says his experience was very good to
him. “I’m not planning a new career any time soon, but I would
probably go back to school if I were.”

Trina Davies also couldn’t be happier with the way things turned out,
despite the inevitable “What are you going to do with that?” she
faced when she settled on English at the University of Alberta. “I
sometimes feel like my education was preparing me precisely for the life that
I lead now,” she smiles, looking up from her keyboard as she hacks
viciously at a monologue from her latest play. “Everything I do is
project-based, which echoes my experience in formal education. My degree led
to some of my summer jobs, which were critical to success in my
career.” Necessary to bid on international contracts, her degree was
the first step to self-employment as a consultant in occupational analysis
for industries across Canada and around the world. When she returns from
Latin America, the Caribbean or Eastern Europe, the award-winning playwright
immerses herself in theatre work: acting, directing, producing and writing
allow her the balance she needs in her life. Trina makes it a point to spend
time educating herself in both her careers and has toyed with the idea of
going back to school in a complimentary area. However, with two careers on
the go and a great social life, she would have to be crazy to enroll right
now. “I would never rule out taking classes or another degree,”
Trina says, “but I’d probably try to integrate it into my
lifestyle.”

Integrating work, play, school and family is key to Quality Assurance Manager
Ryan Hoople, a high school graduate currently enrolled in night courses
toward the NAIT business administration diploma. “Well obviously, now
that I want [a post-secondary education], it would be nice to have,” he
states on his way home from teaching hockey. As a goalie, Ryan played in the
Western Hockey League for three years straight out of high school before
going professional in three different American hockey leagues over the
following four years. His off-season work with his current employer, an
oilfield supply company, became a full-time position two years ago, when the
opportunity to be in charge of implementing the company’s new internal
quality control system presented itself. “Now that I’m in the
company, it’s where I want to be. I’m here to work my way up the
ladder. More education isn’t exactly required, but it’s important
to me: I look at the guys at the top and they all have their diplomas. If
that’s where I want to be, that’s what I’m going to
do.”

Chris Oates expects “more education” to be a permanent part of
his life. The journeyman plumber/gasfitter takes a pull on an ice-cold
Kokanee and scowls. “High school did nothing for me; they didn’t
even have pre-trades back when I was there. When I found out I could start a
plumbing apprenticeship with only grade 11 science and math—the two
subjects I actually finished—I was in.” His only regret was in
not finding out about the trades earlier. Having worked odd jobs for a few
years before enrolling, at the age of 28 he’ll make over $60,000 this
year. Chris earned his trade certificates through NAIT, where he studied two
months of the year and worked the other ten during a four-year program. His
programs trained him to do a job, but also exposed him to new opportunities:
Chris plans to master his trade, then enroll to learn about other, newer
technologies. “You can stay where you are if you want, and likely keep
making money,” he grins. “But if you keep learning, collect more
tickets and expand your skills, you’ll never hurt in a recession and
you’ll always have something interesting to do.”

An economic blow will knock you down, whether it’s as personal as job
loss or as pervasive as a recession, but the best defense against either is
an education that teaches you both the skills you need and the ability to
keep learning. “Policing requires that you demonstrate the ability and
interest in continuing to learn,” says Officer Lefebvre. “A
diverse education is an advantage to the department.” It’s never
too late, as is shown by the popularity of adult education, and everything
you do becomes a part of your education and experience. A diverse education
is an advantage to any organization, and to any individual.
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