The Iron Yard’s Partner Eric Dodds was reflecting on the relationship between education and unemployment this past week.
The Harvard Business Review’s blog posted a thought-provoking article about how trends in hiring methods are making long term unemployment—for older, educated people — a big problem.
The entire article is fascinating, but one quote really stuck out:
It’s not necessarily harder for older college educated Americans who have been laid off to find jobs than for those with less education. The surprising fact is that it’s not easier for them. Once laid off, the likelihood of becoming long-term unemployed is just as great for those with a college education than for those without.
Think about that for a minute: according to the article, a college education doesn’t necessarily make it easier for people to get a job once they’ve been laid off.
Eric lives and breathes excitement about our efforts at The Iron Yard. This topic is so deeply embedded in our culture and vision that is even part of our mission. There’s a significant need for people to develop relevant, marketable skills; and this message is a resounding passion you will find in every office of The Iron Yard.
On the topic of long-term employment, it seems to me that to stay relevant we must grow our capacity for “patient vigilance” and a focus on The Long Game. Unfortunately, that wasn’t always a priority in pop-culture (especially tech pop-culture), and still isn’t today. People used to be able to hyper-specialize in one topic, earn a living, and live the good ol’ American dream. But in the light of long term employment, technology and instant-gratification instill a rather unpopular stigma around age and aging as a whole.
I’m not alone in this point of view – check out comedian Craig Ferguson’s musings on the deification of youth in today’s media and social circles:
I also recently listened to a podcast that talked about “The Top 5 Reasons to be a Jack of all Trades”. Tim Ferriss provides his insights into the reason why hyper-specialization isn’t necessarily a good thing:
Are the days of Da Vinci dead? Is it possible to, at once, be a world-class painter, engineer, scientist, and more? “No way. Those times are long gone. Nothing was discovered then. Now the best you can do is pick your field and master it.”
So how much more would a specialist know on a topic versus a generalist? I believe that as you learn to code at The Iron Yard you spend your effort learning 80% of the core fundamentals of programming with 20% of the effort it took even the instructors to do so when they were learning. We focus on the theories of pedagogy, learning, effective communication, and deliberate practice to help our students ramp up as fast they can manage. Under consideration of that, our students learn all the tricks and tools of the trade up until the point of rapidly diminishing returns.
We at The Iron Yard focus on process, and “learning how to learn”. Ferriss even discusses this and his own timely and worldly experiences, such as learning a language, while comparing the idea of a generalist and a specialist:
Generalists take the condensed study up to, but not beyond, the point of rapidly diminishing returns. There is perhaps a 5% comprehension difference between the focused generalist who studies Japanese systematically for 2 years vs. the specialist who studies Japanese for 10 with the lack of urgency typical of those who claim that something “takes a lifetime to learn.” Hogwash. Based on my experience and research, it is possible to become world-class in almost any skill within one year.
So why are we aligned and formatted to effectively teach programming fundamentals AND semi-specialized courses? Many people might overlook the fact that they can keep a “model T approach" in continuing their own education. We adopt this paradigm in the context of self-improvement to focus on learning something to a very deep and focused level. With that investment, we gain the ability to create analogies and insights to other – possibly unrelated – topics. Thus, by adopting mental models from deep studies on singular topics, we can make analogies to other topics, see patterns, and ultimately alter our perspective of a problem or hurdle to learn it or solve it faster.
How is this relevant to long-term employment and The Iron Yard? I believe, in the end, finding others who value you or your skills and connecting with them is a by-product of grit and infinite curiosity. I believe those ideals stem from working to experience (and not just to earn).
The pursuit of work (be that monetarily or otherwise) can be fleeting, but paradoxically the pursuit of experience and knowledge leads to great jobs.