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Land Use Planning Division

John Bissell & Associates

Vocational Education

By John Bissell
Posted: 2009-03-06 21:00:51
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Not so long ago – up to about 1950-55 we assumed education worked differently. Back then, unless you wanted to be a doctor or some very few other vocations, you went to a liberal arts school to get a liberal arts degree. Once you had a degree in whatever – English, anthropology, it didn’t matter - it was assumed that you knew how to think. Thinking was what was important because you could never learn “business”. It was too complicated. Things were multifaceted. If you went into the corporate world, you might get a job in any industry, and within that industry you might have to understand banking, finance, production, acquisition, mergers. The list is un-ending.

Sometime in the 1960’s we decided everything was a vocation. You can get a business degree to go into business, a finance degree to go into finance, a marketing degree, computer science and so on. It didn’t happen all at once. When I entered college in 1983, there were very few undergraduate land use planning schools. Thus most planners over the age of 45 today have degrees in geography, economics, political science or “other related education”. Today, most planners under about 45 have degrees in planning.

This specialization was supposed to be good, because the graduates would know more detail about the specific area of work. As we know the world is getting more complicated every day. It would seem to make sense that giving people more specific education about their future work area would help them through the complexities.

The converse appears to be the case. As the world is becoming more complex, the inter-discipline overlap is becoming more prevalent. The specialization in education leads to most people in most areas of work having a very narrow scope, and little empathy for others in the work force. They are also taught– fairly specifically- how things in their chosen field work, so when things don’t work that way, it can be difficult for those vocationally educated to be flexible. When they have to assemble a team to work in seemingly unconnected area, the team fails.

In the end – what does this mean? Does it mean all your hires should be un-educated – or older and educated by an older system? No, not really. What this means is that the key to success in the current complex world is not taught in planning school or business school or computer science school or any of the other fairly new vocational degrees. The first key to success is hiring people who can think. Add to that flexibility and empathy. If you have those characteristics, you probably have a model for success. So the degree alone cannot be your yardstick.

Kristen: Re: Vocational Education
2009-03-09 14:03:42

I like something Paul Simon wrote ("Kodachrome"):

When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder
I can think at all

College used to teach us to make up for what we *didn't* learn in college.

As a recruiter, if someone asks me whether I value experience or education more, my response is almost *always* experience.

Kyra: Re: Vocational Education
2009-03-11 06:48:05

This is why it's getting increasingly difficult to choose a major - you know you're going to be trapped into that field these days. I took five years in college because I wanted to major in comp sci, music, and studio arts. I ended up just sticking with comp sci because it had the best job opportunities.... but I always look longingly over at the creative department, wondering if I should have chosen something else.

Elizabeth: Re: - Vocational Education
2009-05-29 07:44:51

I agree - the ability to think, combined with flexibility and empathy, are critical. Letting go of ego, equally important. Or maybe that encompasses them all. Nice article.

Lance: Re: - Vocational Education
2009-07-06 15:50:44

I agree about the value of a liberal arts education, but most people seem to believe that people with a specialty education are better thinkers, and are willing to trust their judgement, not just in their area of specialty, but in everything else, too.

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