Growing up in the country, there was only one thing I ever wanted – not to be poor.

My dad quit school during his second attempt at grade 8. My mom left in grade 10 when she fell in love with him.

Dad had eight brothers and sisters, and mom had seven. 15 aunts and uncles, and there were only three who graduated high school. Mom’s youngest sister, Dad’s youngest sister, and Eric.

We were all mostly poor, except my uncle Eric.

Eric was a unicorn.
In our family, kids quit school so they could earn money. Eric figured there would be time for work after he graduated high school, so he stuck with it.

Armed with a high school diploma, Eric left home and traveled the world working in the oil industry. He was the poster child in the Nicholson family on escaping poverty.

I spent a lot of time at Gramma’s. I remember the pride in her eyes when she spoke of her second born. We all knew Gramma’s favorite was Eric.

When I was 7 years old, I remember saying I wanted to go to university. I couldn’t have known what that was. I couldn’t spell university. I wonder how the old lady planted that seed.

I’ve been told she had a similar gleam in her eye when she spoke of me. Years later, long after Gramma died, my aunt Laura admitted that, on her deathbed, Gramma asked her to watch over me.

Laura was the oldest daughter.

Gramma had lung cancer. She had been sick for a long time.
Three weeks before her passing, I kissed her on the cheek and said Goodbye.
I was leaving home to go to school for my third year of university.
Gramma paused and answered, “See you later”.
This was my last memory of her. She died three weeks later.

Telling this story 30 years later still waters my eyes.

Here’s what I believe about education.

Education doesn’t have to come from a university.

Some of the smartest people I know didn’t go.
Education is not linear. Only institutional education is.

The framework for education has its history with the advent of the industrial revolution. Manufacturing needed skilled employees. Many kids grew up on farms or in boats. You don’t need to read Shakespeare to plant a field of corn.

Educating kids gave them skills to make them employable.

As society advanced, the world needed engineers, doctors, nurses, lawyers.
Institutional education became necessary for every job.

More education gave kids the opportunity to make better money.

In Eric’s time, a high school education was the differentiator.
By the 90s, a child needed at least one degree to get noticed in the application pile.

Marky Mark Zuckerbaby dropped out of Harvard to become one the richest men on Earth.
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates quit too.

Institutional education is still a deciding factor.

In fact, education is like price.
When two products appear to be the same, the buyer will differentiate them on price.

Faced with two job candidates who appear to be the same, the employer will differentiate them on education.

Today’s problem is getting two people to show up for an interview.
It’s a competitive feast. And if a hiring manager doesn’t act fast, he doesn’t eat.

We’re no longer competing within an industry. We’re competing across them.

Pest control techs are becoming plumbers.
Roofers are becoming mechanics.

Jobs that once had a pre-requisite with education are now available without it.

My nephew Patrick wanted to be a mechanic.
He was a carpenter. He hated carpentry work because it hurt his back.
He has a big smile, a good attitude, and a likable sense of humor.
I’ve never witnessed him angry.
He needs to support his wife and two boys.
His new employer hired him despite no mechanic experience.
He was promised a bonus and a pay raise if he went to technical school to get certified.
He’s now the lead mechanic for a farm equipment retailer.

This story is not new.
I witnessed the phenomenon 15 years ago.
Cooks left to become roofers.
Servers were poached for sales jobs.
Managers were stolen to run hotels.
Hostesses became flight attendants.

Employers can no longer differentiate candidates on education.
The power has shifted to the people wanting to work.
They don’t need education. And they don’t need a surly sumabitch scagging on them all day.
The law of supply and demand is in their favor.

It starts with differentiation.

Communicate your superpower to customers, and the same energy wafts to future employees.

When a business does not differentiate itself:

  • Customers choose the cheaper price.
  • Employees choose the better pay.

Both are transactional, not relational.
They aren’t loyal to you. They’re loyal to money.

Transactional employees are better than none.
But barely. They’ll cheat on you as soon as someone gives them more money.

Patrick isn’t interested in leaving his mechanic job.
He works nights and weekends when he needs to.
He’s taking courses to finish up his certifications.
He likes his boss. He likes what he does.
He was always a relational employee.

The tractor retailer wins because everyone else wrote him off for a lack of education.

Latest posts by Rick Nicholson (see all)