Economics, Opinion

Learning Trades Alongside Formal Education For Increased Job Opportunities

Ogunbiyi Kayode


June 9, 2024

Dear Beamers,


Education and skills training are crucial for escaping poverty and leading a purposeful life driven by clear goals. Choosing not to pursue education or skills training often results in taking low-skilled jobs, making it significantly harder to escape poverty. These positions typically offer minimal income because the services provided are so basic that anyone can perform them. This situation makes individuals easily replaceable by other workers or even automation, intensifying the competition. Consequently, this week’s newsletter, dedicated to providing continuous updates on recent developments and relevant issues, will discuss the benefits of learning trades alongside formal education to enhance job opportunities.

The days when a high school diploma could secure a low-skilled factory job that provided a decent living are long gone. Today, if you choose a factory job over a professional career through formal education or learning a trade, you will likely work tirelessly until your black hair turns gray and still remain in poverty. Some may argue that financial struggles are also common in high-paying professional jobs, but this issue is far less prevalent compared to the challenges faced by unskilled workers.

When it comes to learning a trade, there are several paths one can take, each suited to different circumstances and preferences. Both formal education through schools and apprenticeships through work offer distinct advantages. The choice between these options largely depends on personal learning style, financial considerations, and career aspirations.

Gaining practical experience through an apprenticeship is an effective way to learn a trade. This method allows individuals to acquire hands-on skills under the guidance of experienced professionals. Many trades highly value real-world experience, and some employers prefer candidates who have demonstrated their abilities in practical settings. Work-based learning offers insights into the daily realities of the trade and helps individuals determine if it is the right career path for them.

Many individuals enjoy working with their hands, creating, and repairing things. Not everyone is enthusiastic about tests and the formal education environment; these individuals prefer gaining a practical understanding of how things work. They thrive on being active and making things happen, rather than being confined to a cubicle and following abstract instructions on a computer.

The attractive prospect of earning an income while developing skills is particularly appealing to individuals who prefer a hands-on learning approach or who may lack the resources to pursue formal education. However, it is important to recognize that certain trades may offer limited advancement opportunities without formal education or certifications. Additionally, without a structured curriculum, individuals relying solely on work-based learning may miss out on foundational theoretical knowledge that could enhance their overall understanding of the trade.

Olamide Hassan believes that while learning a trade is beneficial, supplementing it with some formal education significantly enhances employability. In her words,

“Let’s face it, if an employer has a large number of applications, they probably won’t start with the ones from people without a degree, especially if you weren’t recommended by a friend or someone in some high position. This is why not having a college degree is one of the easiest and most common ways to get screened out in the corporate world. Formal education boosts your earning potential. Many people don’t know what they want to do for a career, so higher education exposes them to a variety of courses and helps them develop critical thinking and people management skills.”

Formal education through vocational schools, community colleges, or trade-specific institutions provides a structured and comprehensive learning experience. This approach often delivers a well-rounded understanding of the trade, combining classroom instruction with practical training. An advantage of formal education in a trade is access to industry-standard tools and equipment, as well as opportunities for internships that can further enhance skills and knowledge.

Upon completion of the program, students have the opportunity to earn industry-recognized certifications or licenses, which can significantly enhance their employability and earning potential. Additionally, formal education offers networking opportunities, enabling students to connect with professionals in their chosen trade and potentially secure employment upon graduation. However, a major barrier for some is the financial investment required for formal education. Tuition fees, materials, and the opportunity cost of not working during the educational period must be considered. Ultimately, the best way to learn a trade depends on an individual’s unique circumstances and ambitions.

A diverse set of soft skills for professional success can be learned alongside formal education. These include copywriting, coding, data analytics, programming, accounting, project management, digital marketing, leadership, web design, basic computer repair and networking, and fashion design among many others.

Acquiring skills beyond the classroom fosters personal growth and self-confidence. It enables students to develop crucial attributes such as problem-solving, communication, teamwork, and adaptability. These skills are not only valuable in the workplace but also in various aspects of life, empowering students to navigate challenges and excel in their chosen careers. This approach offers a well-rounded education that integrates theoretical knowledge with practical skills, ultimately enhancing their employability and future prospects.

Ebere Patience, a female coding student, believes that freelancing has created new opportunities for individuals with specialized skills. She states:

“The popularity of freelancing has opened up new opportunities for people with specialized skills. Several platforms make it easier than ever to learn new things online. To me I’d say even at this stage, freelancing is still growing, but it has already significantly impacted the future of work. It’s changing how we think about jobs, careers, and the workplace. It provides companies with flexibility and a broader range of talent.”

Learning a skill set can also supplement your income as a student while you pursue formal education. Additionally, the aim of an average student should be to complement skill acquisition with formal education. While formal education imparts theoretical knowledge, skill acquisition provides hands-on experience, enabling students to apply their learning in real-world situations and bridging the gap between theory and practice. It is logical that some individuals may use the income from their skills to finance their formal education.

In the internet age, there are abundant opportunities to acquire new skills, ranging from online courses and workshops to mentorships. Skill acquisition empowers students to launch their businesses or pursue freelance work, developing practical skills that can translate into income-generating ventures, fostering economic growth and self-reliance. Engaging in skill acquisition outside of formal education provides networking opportunities and enables individuals to connect with like-minded peers. Furthermore, the acquired skills can be applied creatively or entrepreneurially. Acquiring new skills can enhance earning potential and open doors to career advancement.

Tosin Akala, a student at a Nigerian university, believes that the future will offer even more opportunities for individuals to learn and grow in ways that align with their needs and interests. In his words,

“Education is now filled with so many new possibilities. The future will bring even more options for people to learn and grow in ways that suit their needs and interests. Gaining new skills requires dedication, time, and resources. Set aside time each day for learning, take online courses, attend conferences and workshops, and keep up with the latest trends in your field. Start small, practice to get better, and then move on to more complex topics. Staying up-to-date with new knowledge helps you stay relevant in the changing job market. It also opens up new career opportunities, valuable networking connections, and fosters a growth mindset.”

In today’s competitive job market, employers highly prize candidates with practical skills alongside academic qualifications. Nigerian students can enhance their employability and differentiate themselves from other applicants by acquiring skills alongside formal education. While obtaining a foundation of knowledge through formal education is essential, skill acquisition adds a practical dimension, translating theoretical learning into real-world applications. These two components complement each other, creating a winning career strategy: formal education offers a structured approach, while skill acquisition provides practical, hands-on learning opportunities.

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