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Leadership For some careers, postsecondary education is a waste of time

Founder and CEO of O2E Brands, including home-service companies such as 1-800-GOT-JUNK

I’ve never been a model student: failed Grade 8, cut class in high school, eventually dropped out altogether. I (somehow) talked my way into business school, thinking I needed a college education to become an entrepreneur. But I just wasn’t made to sit at a desk.

I’ve learned more about business by running one than I ever did in school. In my experience, the best teachers are hard work, hands-on experience and a go-for-it attitude.

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Even though I never got my degree, my stint in university made me realize that you don’t need a formal education to be successful. I believe the education system as we know it isn’t serving all students – especially those who aren’t meant to be students – as well as it could.

More education doesn’t mean more value any more

Canada has the most educated population in the world: 56 per cent of those between the age of 25 and 64 have some kind of postsecondary education. (The only countries that come close are Japan and Israel, with 51 per cent and 50 per cent, respectively.) There’s nothing wrong with being educated; in fact, learning new things is something I value and encourage in my kids and staff. But when it comes to career advancement, being highly educated doesn’t necessarily lead to career success or a higher salary.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canadians with higher education only make 41 per cent more money than those with just a high school diploma; in the United States, more-educated people make 74 per cent more than their high-school educated counterparts. Being overeducated might make you feel more qualified and accomplished, but (at least in Canada) it won’t necessarily drive up your value to employers – or your paycheque.

If you’re working toward your dream job and life, becoming more educated probably won’t be your silver bullet. And here’s the kicker: even MBA programs are more likely to accept people who have more real-world experience over more education. Your real value comes from how well you cultivate your hard skills – and that doesn’t happen in a classroom.

What does ‘real-world experience’ really mean?

Society says to get a good job, you need a college degree. At the same time, you need real-world experience. But … how do you get an education and experience at the same time?

For me, going to school felt like going in slow motion. Sitting in a lecture hall with hundreds of other people wasn’t giving me the practical, hands-on experience I needed to become an entrepreneur.

At first, I thought I could do it all – finish my degree and run my business. But after a few months of answering phone calls in class, I quickly realized school wasn’t helping me reach my long-term goals. I’d always had my doubts about university, but the real “aha” moment happened when one of my professors asked me to teach a class about entrepreneurship. He knew about my business (and the success we’d been having), and he thought my story might inspire the other students. A voice in my head told me to be WTF – willing to fail – so I dropped out to focus on my business full time.

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I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to university; for some professions, such as medicine or law, you obviously need postsecondary. Some people also do really well in that kind of environment. But if you’re like me, and you have a big idea or you want to pursue an unconventional career, consider getting into the real world, rolling up your sleeves and learning through experience.

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