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Do you need a degree for a successful career?

Published:Sunday | February 19, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Glenford Smith, career writer

On Friday January 27, 2012, Omugabe, a regular reader of The Gleaner's Career section, pointed my attention to The Gleaner's Letter of the Day. It was titled 'Educate Workforce First, Then Provide Jobs' and written by P. Andrew Gray. Mr Gray is the operator of an agro-processing firm which exports products to the United States and other overseas markets.

What was the letter to the editor about? And why did Omugabe urge me to check it out? More important, how will all this help you succeed in your career?

Well, let's answer the second question, first.

Omugabe had emailed me a critique of my Sunday, January 22, Career article, 'PM Simpson Miller's Intelligence Edge'.

You may recall in that column I argued against the generally accepted view that a high IQ, having a PhD, MBA, or a honours degree represents your only chances for having a highly successful career.

I encouraged readers to also recognise the underrated importance of other attributes such as 'interpersonal intelligence' and 'emotional intelligence'.

I suggested that these distinctive intelligences contributed significantly to the prime minister's political achievements.

Omugabe dismissed my reasoning as "specious" and "misleading" and cautioned me against the dangers of "glorifying ignorance".

His basic argument went like this: If persons without a college or university degree - I had mentioned Steve Jobs, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison - could achieve so much, can you imagine how much more they could have attained with formal credentials?

Omugabe disagreed with presenting such "rare" individuals as paragons to emulate. He recommended that I should instead encourage readers to travel the beaten path of the majority and gain a degree.

Omugabe believed that Mr Gray's letter proved his point, hence he recommended I read it.

Here's why. Essentially, Mr Gray's letter related that two persons retired from his firm recently, creating two vacancies. Even without advertising, he received a flood of job applications as word got out.

Mr Gray had to immediately disqualify 95 per cent of the applicants, however, because they had not passed any CSEC exams. Some had not even finished school.

There was simply no place for them in his company. Hence his call for an educated workforce as the basis for sustainable employment solutions in Jamaica.

No substitute

Omugabe proved his point: there is no substitute for being educated, at least at the basic level. It's just that he missed the point of my article on the PM.

I wasn't glorifying ignorance, as he charged. I have a tertiary education and am an ardent advocate of lifelong learning. Instead, I wanted to empower you with the truth that you can have a successful career without a formal degree.

Not everyone will get the opportunity to earn a degree, but many enterprising persons have created successful careers without one.

On the other hand, many highly educated university graduates remain at home with their hard-earned degrees, jobless and clueless about what to do next.

It's not your credentials that ultimately determine your career success. It's your ability to turn your knowledge, skills, interests and talents into income.

Glenford Smith is a motivational speaker and success strategist. He is the author of a new book 'From Problems to Power: How to Win Over Worry and Turn Your Obstacles into Opportunities'. glenfordsmith@yahoo.com