The Value of Education + Where To Get Some (Free!)

Recently, I came across an interesting article on that talks about the current (and potentially changing) value of education in the workplace.  The conclusions reached in this article not only resonate strongly with my own observations about how employers view formal education these days, but also hold profound implications for many people in the workforce — especially those folks interested in increasing their earnings potential or reinventing themselves in a new professional direction.

You’ll find a copy of the initial article here if you want to give it a quick read — as well as a copy of the more comprehensive “Employer Confidence Survey” the article draws from here, if you want to go even further in terms of understanding the modern workplace.

For what it’s worth, here are a few of the more telling statistics the survey reports:

• 74% of professionals believe employers value work experience more than education
• 72% believe specialized skills training is more valuable than a degree
• 63% of employees believe learning new skills is the #1 key to a bigger paycheck
• 53% believe graduate degrees are not necessary to get a higher-paying job
• 48% claim their degree, if they hold one, is in no way relevant their current job

The takeaway, at least to me, is that while formal college degrees continue to be important — especially in certain occupational paths — they are rapidly losing ground to more specialized, shorter-term learning options such as vocational training, on-the-job training, and professional certification courses.  In fact, it wasn’t long ago that I heard an educational professional refer to certifications as the “new master’s degree” based on the implication, I believe, that such programs tend to focus on teaching more practical, real-world skill sets compared to the higher-level theory/strategy/knowledge a graduate degree might concentrate on imparting.

Does this mean that obtaining your MBA is a bad idea?  Or that aspiring professionals should avoid graduate programs at all costs?  Not by any stretch, since again, there are many professional niches that still require advanced academic credentials for success.  I’d prefer my doctor to have a medical degree, thank you very much.  And let’s not forget that graduate programs offer networking advantages and other added-value benefits, as well, that a shorter course may lack.  But overall?  The role of education in career success is definitely shifting, and for somebody looking to boost their job prospects in a hurry, exploring short-term training options can definitely be a great option — especially if you do a bit of research to find out which programs map closely to the pressing needs of today’s employers.

So where do you start, if you’re looking to upgrade your skills toolbox?  Quite honestly, some general Google searches will usually get you pretty far, but just to whet your whistle, here’s a list of some other recent sources I’ve come across that can be useful in this regard — including several places one can get free training on Microsoft products, if that’s a particular area of need.

WA Small Business Development Center  (3 months of free training in Microsoft products)
GCF Learn Free (free basic instruction in computer and social media usage)
WA State Library Microsoft IT Academy (free training in most Microsoft software) (low-cost, member-based access to 3,000+ video training courses)
Coursera (access to free online courses from over 100 universities)
Connect2Classes (clearinghouse of various training schools and educational options)
Udemy (over 18,000 online courses, most of which are free are very inexpensive)
Khan Academy (free courses in math, arts, science, and computing)
Degreed (a fascinate site that seeks to “validate” all of the education you’ve acquired)

If any of you out there have some other suggestions on good free or low-cost training providers to pass along — or insights and opinions about this overall topic, in general — I’d welcome your comments below!

9 Responses to “The Value of Education + Where To Get Some (Free!)”

  1. Jason: Haven’t heard of those two — thanks for suggesting them and hope some others benefit from the fact that you pointed them out!

  2. I’ve been studying the online courseware/education space recently, and two other MOOC organizations which might be worth including in the list are, and Also worth watching is, yet to be launched, and using the edX tech platform. Lots happening in this space the past 30 months or so.

  3. Matt:
    I think you are correct – I view education as an almost universally good investment.

    And even knowing what I know now, I probably would still have taken the course; it was so darn interesting, and helped me stay engaged and feel like I was taking positive steps and being productive toward achieving some goals during an otherwise very difficult time.

    The takeaway for me was to have a more realistic set of expectations about how a certificate program is viewed among potential employers. And I should have done more research up front. But admittedly, I was anxious to get started, doing something (geez…anything) toward improving my employment prospects.

  4. Drew: Thanks for sharing your story, and while you’re right about certifications (or any training) not necessarily being a guarantee of success, I still think that when you compare them against the cost/time involved in obtaining a full degree — or not acquiring any new education whatsoever — they still often turn out to be the best option. Again, though, there are lots of other variables involved in these decisions, we’re just talking about the overall trend out there. All the best in your continuing search…

  5. Price: Yet another good suggestion – thanks – and great point that a lot of the “value” employers perceive in terms of education likely correlates with the educational background of the hiring manager.

  6. Briana: Ah yes, can’t believe I missed that one! Definitely a good resource — thanks for chiming in and suggesting it.

  7. I agree that certificates are “the new Masters Degree” but with some caveats; my case in point.

    Being a heavy equipment salesperson proved lucrative prior to the recession, but in the fall of 2008, it provided some serious surprises for my career. I found myself laid off with very few prospects to replace my income at my previous levels.

    My 20 year old management degree wasn’t getting it done in that job market, so I decided to go back to school and set myself up for an opportunity.

    I enrolled in the Project Management certification program at the U.W., which I completed in the spring of 2010. It turned out to be a great program, and I learned a lot; as mentioned in your post, most all of it seemed instantly applicable in a PM position – no regrets from standpoint.

    But when I started applying for PM positions, my lack of specific PM work experience hurt me, despite years of sales, technical design, and sales management experience.

    What I tried to do was use a certification program to change careers. When I was planning, it made sense; I have to change careers because my old industry is currently dead. My chances are better if I have some education.

    I have yet to land a PM position, and in retrospect, wish I had thought the process through better.

  8. Another great (free!) resource is !

  9. Thanks for posting Matt! You sum it up pretty well – a bachelors degree is generally the minimum for most professional jobs and some do indeed require a masters degree. I suspect a hiring manager with a MBA would like to hire people who have a MBA.

    However, I do believe its changing and there are companies who will hire smarts and potential and/or proven track record over a degree. Those seems to be few and far between because of historical bias towards hiring people with degrees.

    The only other thing I can add to your list of resources is the Khan Academy. It’s great for brushing up on topics that one might have learned a lot time ago but suddenly need to use the application of that in work (some math and statistics come to mind). And it’s free!

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