I spoke with a college student the other day on behalf of a professor friend of mine. This young theater student was interested in a career in audio and wanted advice from an old pro in the events business. He was thinking of leaving school. I remember how eager I was at that age to start work and maybe go on the road. Thank goodness that not finishing college was ever an option in my mind. Today the big news is that the unemployment rate is up to 8.1% – the highest since 1983. Where were you in 1983? This was the year I started my professional career and at the time I had no idea there was an unemployment rate or that it would be a really, really, bad time to leave the security of a university job. When I graduated from college in 1982 I hired on at the university to work in the theater and entertainment complex as a stagehand, carpenter, rigger, projectionist, and maintenance guy. We wore a lot of hats, worked 200 events a year, and made a ton of overtime. I earned more than enough money to survive and learned how to do so many things over a year and a half.
So I left benefits, friends, a regular paycheck, and a retirement fund (which had already accumulated enough to make a down payment on a new truck – you actually had to have money to get a loan back then. OMG ) My point is – and I am going to get around to making one – I moved to the big city and found immediate work as a freelance AV technician. This was a long way from pushing road boxes for concerts at the university – I had to wear a coat and tie and I even cut my hair. But pay was good if spotty. And I had time to think and play and live. So, I got even better at my trade.
So my advice to this young man was not to make a run for it. I said stay in school any way you can. I was lucky in 1983. I had drive, work ethic, – and even as scraggly as I looked, I had a college education and practical job experience with a broad set of basic skills. A sharp kid will find work and will even advance his trade for a few years. Then one day he will be passed up by someone with more education. He asked about trade schools and said they were fine, but I would rather see a college degree and know that this person is smart and dedicated enough to have earned all the basic skills a university education brings.
I have interviewed many, many prospective employees and read (or scanned) thousands of resumes over the years. I look for a history of self-improvement and steer away from too many years at the same job. My response to the college kid did not take much thought – it’s just what I believe. I would not trade my choices for any other options, but today’s headlines made me nostalgic about my choices and so happy for anyone who can ride out the downturn in school.