University or Trade School? What’s Better?

As my regular readers know, a couple of years ago I had the misfortune of working for a mercifully short time at a New York university focused on helping their IT students. What was most interesting was that, at the time, I don’t know the situation today (it really does not interest me), they were receiving tax payer dollars to run a special program where students would learn the hard- and soft-skills demanded by employers, and be put in touch with prospective employers to secure jobs.

Now, if you think about it, isn’t that what tuition is for? To learn the hard skills, to obtain the technical knowledge, to work in IT? To learn the soft skills, to learn the personality attributes to pass an interview and successfully interact with colleagues and clients. in other words, to succeed in the workplace?

Don’t get me wrong. I was once a fundraiser. If the government had offered me something like $700,000 to do something I was already supposed to be doing (and, in my case, would have been), I would have grabbed it, freed up my $700K and started a new program. That’s what I would have done.

One other thing. The program with which I was involved, offered educational classes and not just career counseling services. Students did not receive credit for those classes. In other words, they were not recognized by the Computer Sciences departments. Put differently, in essence, this accredited university had set up a non-accredited technical or trade school.

That reminded me of a job I had for a couple of years teaching at the Mechanics Institute of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen. My students included carpenters, plumbers, electricians and project managers. There was even a bricklayer! (I readily admitted that I did not know the job still existed.) It was one of the best jobs I ever had. The students were great and the school was unaccredited. Employers and the unions would send their employees/members to the Institute because of the quality of the instructors (myself excluded, of course!). Students would learn what they needed to progress on the job. The employers did not care about accreditation; they cared about skills. Can the person do the job or not? That was the only question that mattered. (And for their part, the students didn’t care because their graduation, so to speak, their certification, was recognized by their employers/union. That’s what mattered, not recognition by the State.)

And that brings me to something I have begun to see over the past few months while doing IT searches. A great many students seems to begin at a 4-year college and then drop out/transfer to a technical school. In one or two years they learn how to be a network engineer, a help desk technician, or what have you. Then they get a job, let’s say paying $60K. Two years later, their university graduate peer, gets a job paying $80K, but by then, the tech school graduate, is earning $80K and has two years of actual work experience. What’s more, they don’t have nearly the debt of the university grad, if they have any at all.

From the perspective of the client, what do they care if the person fixing their problem has a degree from a university or a technical/trade school, as long as they can fix the problem quickly and accurately?

And it’s not just IT. What about healthcare? Do you care if the person taking your x-ray graduated from college or from a tech school, as long as they x-ray the correct body part and the picture is clear? It’s the radiologist who you want to have the accreditation, not the “photographer.”

Here’s another example from health care. When you go to a lab to have your blood drawn (Why do they say “drawn?” I have never seen a single crayon in a lab only sharp needles!) do you ever ask about the phlebotomist’s education? I don’t. All I care about is that they find, hit the vein and it doesn’t hurt. (I’m not proud! I admit it. I don’t like needles!)

So there are plenty of jobs for which degrees and schools don’t matter. What matters is technical knowledge and the ability to interact with people professionally and respectfully.

My conclusion: If you are going for a technical degree, something for which you will have to use your hands, don’t waste you money on university or college. Also, unlike colleges which build their reputation on athletics sometimes to a greater degree than academics, and are plagued by politics, tech schools have only one selling point: How long it takes their grads to get work.

That said, there is something you will not get at a tech school that you will at college: a broader education. But today, that is not a problem.

You need to be a more complete person. You want to be interesting. You want to be able to speak intelligently, if not authoritatively, on a variety of topics. Well, there are perfectly good apps and websites for that. A few that come to mind are masterclass.comudemy.comonlinecouses.comcoursera.org, and, to name but a few. And I am certain there are more.

Remember, it is always an advantage if you understand what your clients do. That’s how you impress them and how your advance in your career.

There is nothing new here. In fact, what I am proposing is literally ancient. There was this fellow who had barely one-year of formal education. He basically taught himself to read and write. He read any book he could get his hands on, even if that meant walking for miles barefoot because his parents could not afford to buy him shoes. Eventually he read law books and was mentored by a lawyer. In those days, that’s all that was needed to practice law. And he did. He wasn’t great at it, but, with all his self-learning, he had learned a lot and became a very good story teller (thanks to his listening skills) and orator. He entered politics, lost an election for the House of Representatives, but then was elected President of the United States. Now you may not be an Abraham Lincoln, but, if you think about it, Lincoln wasn’t Lincoln until he did what he had to do – learn! – to become Abraham Lincoln.


Bruce Hurwitz, the Amazon international best selling author of The 21st Century Job Search and Immigrating to Israel, is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that! A five-star rated speech writer on Fiverr, he is the host and producer of the live-interview podcast, Bruce Hurwitz Presents: MEET THE EXPERTS