Trade school shouldn’t be frowned upon

One student’s thoughts on trade school versus a university degree, and why we should have a choice

Since elementary school, my parents have always told me that in order to be successful, I would need a university degree, and that I would amount to nothing without it. Whenever I failed a math test, I was threatened with the possibility of working at Walmart for the rest of my life––because somehow failing grade 7 math means that the furthest I’ll get in this world is being a cashier in a blue vest.

A university degree is considered the best thing you can have. While it can be, university isn’t for everybody—and that’s okay. We aren’t all built for university life. Some of us prefer to work manual jobs as mechanics or plumbers. Some of us want to use our creativity to become makeup artists and hairdressers. But some of us will be happier spending four years and thousands of dollars in school for our dream job.

There is nothing wrong with pursuing a trade. If we want to spend our lives working a manual job where we’ll inevitably have a bad back then that’s okay—we’ll be happy with our career choice and broken back.

In April 2018, the pressure to attend a four-year college remained so strong in American society that many high-paying jobs in the trade were currently sitting empty, according to NPR. In an article by VICE, Queens Tech principal Melissa Burg said, “I think those [trade] jobs go unfilled because skilled labor is looked down upon, even though those skilled labor people make more money than I do.”

Yes, a university degree is regarded highly in today’s society. Yet, while a degree is important in the eyes of employers, not everyone is built for academic life and no one should be forced into it.

Going to trade school should be encouraged instead of looked down upon. We need electricians, plumbers, hairdressers and makeup artists. It is ridiculous to expect everyone to be happy in academics––and it’s time to realize that and promote pursuing a trade as a valid career path.

While having a university degree may make it easier to get a job, it doesn’t mean that job will be in your field of study. You can have a degree in neuroscience and still be working at McDonald’s because there are no jobs in your field.

VICE’s article also touched upon how people often associate going to college with earning more money—an idea that isn’t necessarily true, since sometimes people waste more money going to college than they get out of it.

That being said, both university and trade school can bring someone amazing opportunities. If you’re studying what you love and what you see yourself doing for the next 40 years of your life, then the essays, tests and hard work put into your degree is worth it. Yet, only one type of schooling is stigmatized, seen as less than the other, and that’s not right.

Society should not be putting so much pressure on young adults to spend thousands of dollars on a piece of paper if they want to pursue a trade. A bachelor’s degree does not equal happiness; you can be successful and happy while pursuing a trade.

Spend money on something you actually like instead of something that will make you miserable. Comedian John Mulaney said in his Netflix comedy show, John Mulaney: Kid Wonder, “I paid $120,000 for someone to tell me to go read Jane Austen and then I didn’t.”

Archive Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

Student Life

Great expectations, at what expense?

Cramming to finish your degree isn’t worth the mental exhaustion

Take a step back and look at your life from a different angle. Are you happy? Are you okay?

There’s a significant amount of pressure on students to achieve something in their young adult life, so much so that sometimes people forget that expectations aren’t always great. More often than not, this pressure comes from within. The individual lens that we see life through is tinted with the wants and needs of external factors: parents, society, friends, and the need to ‘become.’ It’s not a simple feat to differentiate between what’s really best for you and what you think is best, because of all these factors.

In 2016, The Charlatan published an article highlighting different factors contributing to university dropout rates. According to the article, most students leave because they’re unsure if their program is right for them.

“In the first year, dropouts were already struggling in terms of meeting deadlines, academic performance and studying patterns,” according to The Youth in Transition Study sourced in The Charlatan. “Compared to graduates and graduate continuers, more dropouts felt they had not found the right program,” the study stated.

Here’s the truth: deciding on your future at 18 is practically impossible. You’re told to make the most important decision of your life at an age when your brain is still evolving. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, the human brain isn’t fully developed until the age of about 25.

When you wake up one morning and ask yourself if what you’re doing is worth the stress, money, and effort you’re putting into it, remember you’re allowed to change your mind, take a break and refocus your lens.

“Overall, being out of school let me take time to focus on myself,” said Rachel Doyon, a student in Montreal. “It also made me miss school—I think that was the biggest benefit. Being reminded that I was in university because it was something I was passionate about, not just an obligation. I still get little pangs of disappointment when my peers graduate ‘on time,’ but it was the best choice.”

‘On time’ is the key term here: this is exactly the kind of ‘want’ or ‘need’ that we associate with ourselves, but really it’s an outside factor. The concept of graduating on time is not at all an objective conventional setting: the only timeline that matters is your own personal clock. Granted, there are several factors that affect when you graduate: maybe your parents pay for your education and you don’t want to prolong it, or perhaps you have to prolong it because you pay for it yourself.

According to a study on persistence in post-secondary education in Canada done by York University, only 57 per cent of students aged 18 to 20 graduated, or are continuing in post-secondary education, 8 per cent of which were enrolled and dropped out. Students aged 20 to 22 had 14 per cent drop out rate of the 60 per cent enrolled in university.

“Even though my parents wouldn’t have minded, I just would’ve felt weird, like I fell off the train,” said Ali Sabra, a Lebanese student who was offered a year-long internship abroad, but refused because it didn’t feel right to take two semesters off. “Being in Lebanon, it’s virtually unfathomable to ‘take a year off.’ It’s the rush thing for sure.”

Culture played a big role in Sabra’s decision-making, but being in a rush to graduate is rather universal. In all fairness, it’s okay to want to graduate as soon as possible. You might not want to pass up an opportunity that would benefit you more in the future in the name of finishing sooner.

“I went into psychology because my parents got so excited, but I wasn’t sure I liked it,” said Noura Nassreddine, a previous American University of Beirut student. “The next year, I told my parents I didn’t like it and I needed to take a break, so I did.” During her gap semester, Nassreddine found what she really loved, and is now on her way to becoming a Paris-trained baker. Nassreddine’s experience is a reminder that your 18-year-old self doesn’t always know what you want your future to look like.

Choosing a career path is not a light task, and yes, sometimes you aren’t ready to decide where to go straight out of high school. It’s okay to go in blind and try things out, and then decide to change your mind. If you have the means, the patience, and the will, go find what’s best for you. When making decisions, consider which you’d regret more: doing it, or not doing it, whatever ‘it’ is.

All in all, taking time for yourself is as important as finishing your degree. Making sure the degree you’re getting is what you want to continue with and is important, too. Remember that your mental health is a key aspect of your success—take care of yourself so you can have the mental capacity to achieve your goals. Sometimes retreating is important to help put things into perspective. At the end of the day, life will bring you all sorts of problems in the future, so what’s an extra semester or two, anyway?

Feature GIF by @spooky_soda


Walking into the workforce means leaving your bubble

The differences between experiencing student life and working life

Being a 40-year-old university student has its ups and downs. The downside is that it can be difficult to build relationships with your classmates due to the age gap—in the last three years of school, I have been older than at least three of my professors. The advantage, however, is that I am here because I want to be, and that helps with applying myself to the work. Before university, I was a warehouse manager in Winnipeg for five years, and before that, a long-haul truck driver for 10 years. I am here because I was tired of using my back rather than my brain.

Now that I am in my fourth year of studies, I sometimes—but only sometimes—look forward to one day rejoining the workforce. I say this because I really like school, and I enjoy the cocoon I have constructed for myself. My friends and acquaintances are people with whom I generally agree, both politically or otherwise, and my peers are usually like-minded in that we all attend the same university and, more often than not, the same program and even the same classes.

This is a far cry from the work life I opted out of in order to “retrain” for a new direction in life. Now, when I am brooding over a looming due date for yet another dull paper topic or one more obligation-infused group project, I try to keep in mind how much more appeasing and flexible student life is.

In the workforce, for me at least, the contents of my surroundings were a lottery—I was exposed to people from all walks of life. Don’t get me wrong, I met a lot of great people, some of whom I still keep in touch with. But I was also exposed to a mix of ideas I did not always find appealing, some of which I found downright distasteful.

If we all have a right to a particular workplace environment, then there will need to be some compromises. Yes, it is highly unlikely in certain workplaces that one would be exposed to extremist thought (be it left- or right-wing) in any workplace, but it’s not unlikely that one will be obliged to work with someone who is outspoken about their hatred of cyclists or denies climate change or, heaven forbid, is a Trump supporter. We all have the right to a certain kind of workplace, but this means the people we do not agree with do as well.

At school, when we are confronted with uncomfortable ideas or issues, we often have the choice to seek higher ground. We are encouraged to treat each other with respect, and that is often the case. However, in the workplace, we are exposed to a much more colourful array of ideas, perspectives, backgrounds and opinions that we have no control over. Add to that the fact that workplaces are seldom democratic spaces; concerns and comments may not necessarily be met with open arms (or minds).

My reason for bringing all this up is the recollection I have of a classmate who, at 24, was accustomed to academic life and wondered aloud if the working world would be a shock. They questioned whether or not they were simply living in a bubble. I did not take the opportunity to answer at the time, but I will respond to them now: Yes. You do live in a bubble, but that’s okay. We all do to some degree, and for good reason.

We live in bubbles that help us make sense of our surroundings and are constructed so that we don’t need to constantly fend off discomforting ideologies. When outside of these bubbles, we are exposed to a broad range of new and sometimes exciting, sometimes frightening, ideas.

In the world today, we are all exposed to a lot; a lot of news, a lot of information, and a lot of opinions. So build that bubble. Show me a person who exposes themselves needlessly to cognitive dissonance, and I’ll show you a masochist.

Graphic by @spooky_soda


The hidden value of the ‘useless’ undergrad degree

Universities aren’t supposed to find us jobs—they’re supposed to teach us how to learn

The discussion about whether an undergraduate degree is useless or not is somewhat redundant. Just like many other points of societal disagreement, this is a systemic issue as well as an individual one. Speaking as a millennial, which Time magazine defines as someone born between 1980 and 2000, I think talking about the “point” or “usefulness” of an undergrad is elitist.

Imagine posing this question to someone who never had the opportunity to go to university. Attending university, or any other post-secondary institution, is a very important and privileged opportunity. In 2017, however, I believe our focus is on making sure we aren’t “behind,” especially when we compare ourselves to our peers and where they are career-wise. We seem to be constantly striving to be more successful than our neighbours.

I believe a fear of inadequacy is what leads to money being wasted and university degrees feeling useless. A person might end up completing a degree they are not passionate about or that doesn’t really interest them. Yet some may feel that if they don’t have a bachelor’s degree, then they are not as smart or as important as others.

According to a feature on millennials in Time, “millennials have come of age in the era of the quantified self, recording their daily steps on FitBit, their whereabouts every hour of every day on PlaceMe and their genetic data on 23andMe.” Comparing your career fulfillment and career success is no exception to this trend. Speaking from my experience in a Canadian individualist society, the norm has been to look for a career that fulfils you. It’s a privilege to find a job that brings you fulfillment. But I wonder: are there really less jobs available or are university graduates just soul-searching for a job and labeling it as “failure” when they can’t find one?

Being able to study something that interests you is a privilege in itself as well. In many areas of the world, one might not have a chance to pursue something they excel at and find interesting.

A 2016 Ottawa Citizen article reported that “only 58.3 per cent of high school graduates land a job without any additional qualifications, while nearly three-quarters of all university graduates find work after completing their degree, according to Statistics Canada.” Personally, I think there is a misconception for a lot of people studying at university. University is not necessarily a place that will lead you directly to a job.

According to Todd Hirsch, a reporter for The Globe and Mail, “your university education, at least at the bachelor of arts level, was never intended to land you a job. It was intended to make you a more complete thinker. It was intended to teach you how to absorb complex information and make reasoned arguments. It was, quite simply, intended to teach you how to learn. Those are skills that you’ll use in any field of work.”

It is important for me to understand that, when I speak about my degree, I am speaking from a position of privilege. For those living in Canada, education is more accessible than many other areas of the world. Furthermore, being able to afford university and access resources to help finance your time at university is also a privilege. During my time in university, I think I have developed skills that have increased my ability to be objective, critical, ethical and analytical. These things are not specific to my degree, and I think this is important to note.

I am a journalism student, and I am not sure where my degree will take me. I have switched programs and universities a lot, and through these opportunities, I have been lucky enough to find an undergrad program that interests me. With my degree, I hope to improve my writing, professional and social skills, while learning about interesting and diverse stories and how to write about them.

I’ve come to learn that, whether you are in sociology or nursing, your undergraduate degree can teach you to be organized and methodological. We are entering a changing workforce. Due to this transitional time, I think that, while it may be harder to get a job with just an undergraduate degree, this degree is still valuable.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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