Rather than wade into the long running argument about how much of the value of education is in acquired skills versus the ability to signal ability or aptitude, let’s take a moment to appreciate the majesty of signaling in the wild.
I hold the view that education has value far in excess of simply demonstrating to others that you can execute four years of tasks in a structured environment sufficient to warrant a degree.
Make no mistake, however, I also firmly believe the labor market is constantly on the lookout for signals of high productivity employees that are entirely orthogonal to education and often values them more than most forms of broad training.
To be honest, part of the reason I believe that education must have some training value is that the wage premium remains enormous, but the signal itself is actually kinda, well, generic.
Sure, different degrees have different signals (i.e. did you dodge calculus?), but the fact remains that you really don’t learn all that much about a person from their simply having a degree.
If they worked the griddle at a Waffle House for a year? Now that’s a signal.
I’ll tell you straight up – I’d take a faculty job candidate with a PhD from State U and 12 months of Waffle House on their CV over someone who got an Ivy League PhD straight out of undergrad.
And not just accept, I’d push hard for them.
There are plenty of attributes that certain lines of work leverage. Grit. Attention to detail. Follow through. Resilience. Calm. Creativity. Cleverness. Reliability.
I could go on for a 100 more at least, but at some point it just becomes a thesaurus for “awesome person who can accomplish tasks and handle challenges that are hard to define in advance”.
And those kinds of things are difficult to ascertain without a) observing them first hand over an extended period of time, or b) those attributes being vouched for by someone whom you trust implicitly, neither of which are options for the typically hiring process, unless you’re “hiring” a 10-time All Star that was once coached by the person who took a knife for you in 5th period study hall 20 years ago.
There are some occupations and life experiences, however, like an extended run paying your bills scattering and smothering the world’s best hash browns, that do manage to signal those incredibly valuable, but hard to credibly observe attributes with at least some degree of reliability.
Here’s a few that come to my mind:
More Waffle House
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