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11 Mar Should I Study at University or Learn a Trade?



A question that is bugging many young people of late is: Should I go to university, or learn a trade? The short answer: It depends. I’ll tell you my personal situation.

I studied at uni and got a degree in physics, but I couldn’t find a job. All “physics jobs” basically required people to have research experience, that is, a Masters, or PhD. I didn’t want to study anymore at that time, so I just applied for lots of jobs. I ended up getting a job in Japan teaching English back in 2001. The Japanese government require all English teachers to have a degree — ANY degree, so I got the job, even though I never ever used any of my physics knowledge whatsoever while in Japan.

I did that for a few years, teaching English in Japan and China, and ended up going back to uni in Australia and studying a Masters in Computing. Yes, that got me a job as a programmer working for an insurance company, but it was extremely BORING!

One thing I can tell you, however, is that everything I learnt at university, I could have learnt by myself. This isn’t necessarily true for all degrees (for example, Medicine), but mostly, you can teach yourself lots of stuff nowadays just by using the Internet.

That said, I know that many employers require that piece of paper — that degree, or trade certificate. You can’t get a job as a journalist at a big media company without a journalism degree (unless you’re really lucky), but you could do your own form of journalism on YouTube for free! You could make your own channel that gives opinions on all the latest news, and interview whoever you damn well want to. You wouldn’t be restricted by a team of managers, or editors. You never know, you might become popular and start making a living from it. (Yes, there are lots of people on YouTube who make big bucks.)

So what about learning a trade? Personally, I think it’s a great idea. In Australia, many tradies are making more money than many university graduates. Some trades are always useful, for example, electrician. I’d love to know how to install a solar panel or wind turbine, because if the world ever went to hell in a hand-basket, at least I’d be able to set up my own electricity supply.

It should be noted that tradesmen salaries were probably heavily influenced by the mining and property booms. Now that both of these sectors are struggling in Australia, it might be wise not to count on having a good salary forever into the future.

However, tradesman are less likely to be automated anytime soon. Although we’re living in the age of self-driving cars, to create a robot that can do the role of a plumber would be extremely difficult. I would suggest that it would be at least a couple of decades away. Figuring out whether the washers need changing, or if there’s a blockage in this pipe or that pipe, or if the cistern has an issue — No, I don’t see robot plumbers rocking up to my front door anytime soon.

Tradesmen also get paid while they’re training — admittedly, not very much — but they come out with a qualification debt-free. University graduates, on the other hand, start their careers with tens of thousands of dollars of debt (depending on the course they studied). I ended up being about $41,000 in debt all told. It’s not a very nice start to your working life.

It’s amazing, that as a society, we’ve allowed our younger folk to get into so much debt at such a young age. It’s a bit disgraceful really. We need those people to look after us in our old age. They’re the future doctors, the future dentists, the future engineers who will be looking after society when we are old. Why would we want to hurt them so much financially before they even begin?

Anyway, as I said, I can’t give a direct answer whether you should study at university, or learn a trade, but certainly, you’re living in a time where you have the most opportunity to succeed without going to university. So many people I know don’t have a university education, but are doing just fine. It’s just a matter of diligence, patience, and finding your passion. Ultimately, do something that you’re interested in that can help people, or help the world, and the money will surely come.

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MOST RECENT COMMENTS
5 Comments
  • Damian
    Posted at 22:30h, 11 March

    I'm 50 years old, living in UK, Degree qualified, Chartered Engineer, 20 years experience and i can't sustain a reasonable standard of living on an Engineers salary. It's basically a shit profession and wouldn't recommend it to any young person. Had I gone into Finance Degree or Accountancy i'd be on a lot more money at this stage and probably be in a stable career. However, even these professions are not paid as well as they use to and can be highly stressful IMO. My advice to young people is to stay away from STEM and Business/Finance courses altogether unless you want to be either laid off, burnt out or suicidal by the time you hit your late 30s. If you want an interesting career with some longevity, I would go with anything related to Health Care.

  • aaron raftis
    Posted at 22:30h, 11 March

    Thank you so much for speaking about this controversial topic. I'm 18 years old and I live in Ireland by the way. I've applied to take an apprenticeship as an electrician at a reputable company in Ireland. Furthermore, I've also applied to college in case the first option is unsuccessful. I believe my generation are going to struggle to form a proper family with the high cost of living in the west and the overwhelming amount of debt which consumes society. 🙂

  • modvs1
    Posted at 22:30h, 11 March

    Web camming- gold! Hope my Dad's not watching though.

  • Kirill Ivoutin
    Posted at 22:30h, 11 March

    I have uni degree, If I could go back I would 100% do a trade. Uni degrees are meaningless now

  • RandomTechS@#T
    Posted at 22:30h, 11 March

    Trade and investment at the same time

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