Are you a “new traditional” student?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 73% of college students today are called “working learners” —people who hold full-time or part-time jobs while attending classes. These students who are attending college later in life or re-entering the education system in search of a new career are finding they need a much higher level of skills in order to succeed. They need to be better in every subject, from math to reading to be able to effectively compete for 21st century jobs. Some students coming back to school or entering later in life may wonder if all their hard work will pay off. Karen Early can tell them it absolutely will.
Few people can appreciate the value of a good education more than Karen. When she was a teenager, she lost interest in finishing high school. She found the courses being offered didn’t challenge her anymore. Her life at home was becoming more and more troubling. Karen desperately needed to get away from a downward spiraling situation and found her escape through education. At the age of 16 she was able to enroll at Georgetown University through a program for gifted students and went on to make the dean’s list her first year. Karen received her undergraduate degree and later continued her education, earning a master’s degree from Penn State University 20 years later.
Today, the chief communications officer for Blue Cross of Idaho offers this advice for those who want to pursue an education.
“Only one person can change your life and that’s you.”
Change can be very rewarding but often challenging. When pursuing her master’s degree, Karen was one of the older students, which didn’t sit well with her. “I whined to a grad school professor that I might be 45 or 46 by the time I finish my MBA.” Her professor replied, “Well, God willing, you’re going to be 45 or 46 anyhow….you can be 45 or 46 WITH your degree or without it.”
Karen truly believes education and life-long learning are keys to success in life. Her aunt Mary once told her, “Nothing you learn will ever hurt you.” Karen couldn’t agree more. “Going to school, is never a bad thing. If you decide later that you need more education, just go and get it.”
What advice does she offer people looking to restart a career by going back to upskill or retool?
“Don’t let what happened in your past dictate your future. Go to college. Study what you love. If you love what you study, you will always be successful because you will love what you do.”
What role can businesses play in helping us reach the 60% college completion goal in Idaho?
Businesses that are flexible in allowing their employees to attend classes can really help. Some businesses, if they can afford it, even support the cost of tuition, and that is a really big help.
What are the discouraging and encouraging signs you see in today’s entry-level employees?
Discouraging is writing and the English language! I see so many young people who do not know proper grammar, punctuation and style. I think every student in college should have a class based on Strunk & White’s, “The Elements of Style” and “Eats, Shoots and Leaves,” a hilarious book on punctuation. It is encouraging that there are so many students returning to college after taking a post-high school hiatus. It’s never too late to get a degree.
Are people entering the job market as prepared as they need to be to grow in a company such as Blue Cross?
Yes, I think we are seeing many, many highly qualified candidates. This challenging job market, I think, has caused many people to sharpen their work and interview skills.
What skill sets are missing from young people starting out in their careers?
I was surprised to learn that 80% of the accountants who lose their jobs are fired not because they are bad accountants, but because they are poor communicators. If you can’t communicate to your boss, your peers or your employees, you are going to find it difficult to be successful. Writing, speaking and emailing (which is a little different from memo writing), are all skills every employee, in every job, needs.