The ongoing debate: Attend college or skip it.  Pauline discusses a hybrid model— work after high school, but take relevant online classes as needed.

To Work Or Not To Work, That Is The Question

To Work Or Not To Work, That Is The Question

The advantages of a college degree are obvious:

It provides you with a recognized piece of paper that will vouch for your skills to your potential employer. And not only that, it gives you a frame, a schedule, a routine, to keep you studying. If you are just out of high school, it can be hard to be presented with too much freedom to do what you please all day.

But it also burdens you with years of repaying the student loan.

What if there is a way around it? I had mentioned here earlier that picking a job at the bottom of the ladder in your ideal field and working your way up for the next five years would pretty much give you the same opportunities as a young graduate on his first job.

You will have five years of life experience over the college grad. And if you can put in enough effort and discipline, there are lots of ways that you can squeeze in a bit of learning while working.

The benefits of such a setup are that you can study at your own pace – faster than at college, if you are motivated; study exactly what you need instead of being required to go through an entire course load, of which half might be useful for your future job; and obviously have no student debt.

The average debt for the class of 2015 was over $35,000. I am sure many people would enjoy the potential savings.

So should you chose the work option over straight-to-college one, here are some qualities that employers are looking for these days:

•  Motivation. You can’t just get ahead by being a dead weight to the company. You have to put in your best effort, as you would for your own business.

•  Will to improve. Companies often offer employee training, and might be willing to pay for your extra classes.

•  Flexibility. “That’s not on my job description” is something your employer does not want to hear.

•  Reliability. If you commit to completing a task by Friday, try to have it done by Thursday. It will get noticed, and appreciated.

•  Independence. You should be able to perform your tasks without having to ask your manager every 10 minutes if that’s good. If you don’t know, ask, and learn so you don’t need to ask again.

•  People skills. Between two people with the same abilities, the one who will get promoted is the one who motivates others. No need to be a born leader – you can learn those skills.

•  Initiative. Being a problem solver goes a long way in today’s workplace. Don’t be shy and go to your boss with new ideas.

•  Written skills. Writing a brief is not like texting your best friend. You should be able to make a point clearly in writing.

•  IT skills. Most jobs require you to work on a computer these days. Bonus points if you are the “computer person” in an old-fashioned company. They’ll think highly of you for solving their problems.

•  Languages. In an international company, language skills will really help you get ahead. I got an IT job with no IT skills just because they needed someone to communicate with international customers.

The good news is that you can learn most of this in real life just by getting experience at a first job. My first job in a big company was at Mc Donald’s. I was manning the counter and flipping burgers. After a couple months of good work, I was promoted to team leader, checking out the profits after a shift and organizing the schedules for the next week. It came with a raise of around two dollars an hour, which was a big deal at the time. A couple of my co-workers dropped out of college and became managers, then directors of a restaurant. The pay was competitive, and a handful of directors ascend to headquarters in marketing and business development jobs.

And in your free time, you can plan for that big job at the company’s headquarters by taking some online classes. There are excellent online resources available that can teach you as well as any college. Check out the following:

Coursera includes classes from top universities such as Yale and Princeton.

edX includes classes from MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and many more.

Open2study provides a wide variety of courses for free.

Duolingo is a really cool app to learn a language online for free.

For more from author Pauline Paquin, click here