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An Educational Phenomenon of Our New Millennium American Culture
by Mike Burgess

Here is proof of the fact that updated, current education makes more difference than even a heavy-hitting Ivy League name on your old education. This is a phenomenon of our culture, and demonstrates one way in which the thinking of corporate America has shifted in the past several years.

This is the contents of an e-mail I received from a young friend of mine who specifically asked me to write about it. It's not a matter of leisure activities (my main writing subject) or "the good life", but it is important enough to discuss and certainly describes our modern culture like no textbook could.

"Today I got to work a little early and was shocked to see my boss, Jerry, cleaning out his office. He had been fired via an official letter from personnel. He was hurt. He was visibly shaken. Jerry is 54 and graduated in 1976 from - hello - HARVARD UNIVERSITY. He has been with our bank for thirteen years and as a treasury department manager he is second to none. He didn't do anything wrong to get fired. In fact he's the straightest arrow in the quiver. But he still got fired. With a letter.

"With typical grace he said, "It's time for the old man to move on. They just can't afford me anymore. They're going to hire some young hot-shot kid out of college and pay him half of what they pay me and that's that." His (likely incorrect) presumption was that the bank will hire a man to replace him.

"But then I realized it isn't about salary at all. The salary for the next person is going to be at or near Jerry's current level, because the market demands it anyway. It struck me as sad but I suddenly completely understand why Jerry was fired. It wasn't his salary. It was his utility."

My friend was pretty upset when he sent me the e-mail. The question is, how can a 40-something or 50-something with a 1970s, 1980s, or even up to late 1990s degree (if they have a degree at all) expect to compete in today's business world with the new grads who have real-world, 2008 knowledge as the basis of their degrees? It's not just ten years (or much more) later. It's a completely different world nowadays. There is no way Jerry could hope to keep up.

He graduated from college at a time when computers that fit on desktops had only just been invented. China wasn't even an emerging economy. 'Globalization' was a word they talked about every night on the weather report. Check out the Bachelor's degree completion program in something as broad as General Studies at Boston University's Metropolitan College. One of the integral courses in their lockstep program is "MET IS 370: China, the Emerging Superpower: A Model for Development?". Why is that important to a bank? You mean aside from the fact that the Chinese government and institutional investors are some of the bank's biggest customers? And they're many other peoples' biggest customers too.

When the bank hired Jerry his biggest job was basically to count all the money on a daily basis and make sure none was missing. That was pretty much it. Doing that singular job he has apparently been the best of the best. Here is a small peek at the job description that will be posted to replace Jerry, if it hasn't already. This is just my own speculation, but I'll bet I'm close.

1. Supervise the input and management of all treasury department data across the SQL server database platform.
2. Supervise and facilitate departmental rollout.
3. Develop, plan and implement mission-critical internal projects using Microsoft Project.
4. Act as a "player-coach" in your efforts to supervise and advise, provide technical input and assistance in installation and implementation of the new statistical forecasting and modeling/analysis program in DOS to all "B" units. Conduct table trainings. Bring senior management up to speed. (Translation: You've trained your departmental employees. Now train me individually, and it better be good! And it is NOT an IT job at this particular bank-I checked)
5. Using your knowledge of the Microsoft Office Suite and other presentation and production software, prepare reports and charts for the Board of Directors as required using PowerPoint, Publisher and Adobe Photoshop, including authoring and producing Adobe .pdf files.
6. Supervise the development of and/or develop and maintain all macros and pivot tables as appropriate for necessary files in Excel, and monitor and double check inferential and comparative statistical models against actual results on the appropriate spreadsheets.
7. Supervise and take responsibility for the use and content of the departmental web pages.
8. Produce and maintain final reporting in Crystal Reports or other similar reporting software.
9. Innovate programs to assist the department in the development of "the internal customer".
10.Insure the timely reporting requirements for the treasury department are met, including impromptu data requests in a high-stress environment.

Etc., etc., etc. I'm sure this is a very abbreviated list.

(Notice there's nothing here about counting the money daily and making sure that none of it goes missing.)

Jerry is naturally lost in that crowd. And that crowd has basic to intermediate computer skills. My young friend can actually do all those things but he only has 1-1/2 months of total banking experience, so he's not even a candidate for his job. I'm not trying to sound like some sort of alarmist, because that's not what this is about. But everybody needs to be mindful of what happened to Jerry and take certain steps so that it doesn't happen to them.

But to anybody who went to school many (or a significant number of) years ago or never even graduated, my suggestion is to find a program (a good idea is an accredited online program, such as Boston University's Metropolitan College program as mentioned above) and finish their degree, minimally update their skills with computer and globalization & management courses that actually teach you what to do at work. Because unless you're a lawnmower by profession, everything you do in most jobs is tied to some sort of computer literacy requirements.

Go for every CEU and in-service training you can find. Keep up with the young-uns. Go to your local Regional Occupational Program in your city and learn Visual Basic programming language, then learn how to use VB to build macros, for example. Keep your skills for your specific job function up-to-date at a bare minimum. If you work at my bank, start studying for the job one level up from you. It just seems to be how things work here. Keep yourself employed.

Do it ASAP. Or go back for a master's degree (again, there are some excellent online master's programs) but make sure technology and modern methodologies, global studies and the most recent developments in your industry are specifically in your curriculum. Keep yourself competitive in your marketplace or end up like Jerry, a stark example of the consequences of not doing so. In most cases the government will pay for it or mostly pay for it anyway.

I see this as one very sure way the 40s and 50s workers can keep thriving. Get the training. Get the new skills. Get updated knowledge. Get current information. Get up-to-date on these things. Or get another job from which you will undoubtedly be fired and replaced by someone like my young friend. Or start mowing lawns.

Published: Aug 11,2008 20:12
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