Story of a Woodworker

There are advantages in a liberal arts degree, which is intended to expose students to array of different subjects and disciplines while they are still figuring out what they want to want to do with their career. If you have been following my blogs, you might catch on one of my common themes: college students should be mature and carefully plan what courses they take so they build skills because a college tuition is so expensive. However, I understand most incoming college freshman do not have an effective career plan (one reason why I think career planning should start in high school). I met with my second cousin this weekend and he told me his story.

He went to college and earned a philosophy degree. To satisfy an elective, he took a woodworking class. When he graduated, he sought out advice on his next career move. He could attend law school with a full scholarship, something in line with his expectations at an earlier stage in his life. But he decided his passion is woodworking, so he learned the trade and started his own business – it is something he still does today. He found career happiness and fulfillment.

In hearing his story, I stopped to think about how important a college degree is in shaping your career. There are two objectives of a traditional college degree. First, there is the element of exposure (especially with a liberal arts degree). Most college degrees include a combination of core classes and electives where students can explore whatever might spark intrigue. For my relative, it was a woodworking class. His whole life changed by taking this class! To become passionate about something or identify core-competencies, you must experience it. Second, there is the element of preparation for employment or further education. Most college graduates will try to join the workforce, so they need to have built the necessary technical and transferable skills to make them marketable. And this is something I hammer on with a skills-based approach: you should concentrate on building your chosen skill set at every opportunity. Skill building is a significant time and financial commitment.

I have three overarching conclusions:

  • High school students should adopt a skills-based approach and start career planning, so they are ready for their next career move. Let’s start the maturation process a little earlier.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to learn whatever subject might interest in you in college. You may find something that sticks. (Though consider building transferable skills.)
  • If you take on a career based on a passionate pursuit, there are some important things to consider: show competency, assess yourself after each step, prepare for a setback, and make sure it is not all about you. (In the example above, my relative is clearly successful demonstrated by having his own woodworking business for thirty years.)
Skills-Based Approach
Skills-Based Approach is a methodology centered on the development of a skill set over a career; it is a progression in four stages: planning, building, presenting, and validating. Each stage has proposed ways to achieve its objectives. The beauty of a skills-based approach is its simplicity and flexibility.

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