“I am extremely worried about my son.”
I’d just stepped off stage from a presentation when a bloke in his 50s took my polite handshake with both hands and pulled me close – so close I could see the broken capillaries on his face. He smelled of sweat and smoke.
He explained that his son wasn’t much chop at school and had recently said he wouldn’t go to university next year. “But how can he make any money if he doesn’t go to uni? You must talk to him!” he pleaded.
I wedged my way from his grip and reclaimed my personal space. Actually I have these conversations quite often with parents, and the advice I gave him was the same I give everyone else: “Calm down, you’re scaring small children.”
I learnt long ago that a high-paying graduate job isn’t the Aladdin’s lamp it’s built up to be. It doesn’t guarantee wealth, or job security, or happiness.
Now as a graduate myself, I’ve got nothing against university, but it’s not the only option.
To prove it, here are five powerful, productive and profitable alternatives:
1. Be your own boss
Eventually we’ll look back on today as a goldrush. There’s never been a better time to turn your passion into profits: take one part internet and two parts outsourcing and Bob’s your uncle. (Well, he’s actually mine – he’s a cockie in Walpeup).
Starting your own business is one of the hardest but most rewarding things you’ll ever do. It takes guts because you’ll be risking your time and money without a safety net (which is why I’m annoyed at Wayne Swan’s recent self-made billionaire bashing of the mining magnates).
Yes, it may not work out (at which time it becomes a cheap real-world MBA). But it’s probably the most awesome thing you could put on your résumé: “I backed myself, worked insanely hard, and failed, but here’s what I learned …”
And if you do succeed, you’ll have the privilege of sending a lot of dough to Wayne and his cronies.
2. Get paid to learn
Show me a tradie in his 20s who hasn’t blown their cash on a $50,000 ute or a jet-ski and I’ll show you someone with the ability to become a multi-millionaire.
It’s not just that they don’t have to pay to go to uni (although in this great country of ours you can pay off your fine arts degree one burger flip at a time).
There’s also a time advantage: young tradies can be earning good dough before they turn 21. If they invest some of their money from the start, it gives them an incredible advantage over practically everyone else – even high-income earners. Time is money.
3. Smile and dial
Sales is just about the best-paid gig on the planet. It requires no qualifications, except that you care about people. (Sure, there are plenty of self-centred salespeople – but they’re not the big earners.)
I must know at least a dozen people under the age of 30 making over $200,000 a year in sales. Some twice that. If you can learn to sell (read: gain someone’s trust), you’ll never have to worry about being laid off – it’s one of the few businesses that can’t be effectively outsourced to India (not that they haven’t tried).
4. Do something that matters
You have the rest of your life to pore over a profit-and-loss. But, as we saw this week with the viral sensation Kony 2012, most of us have a strong desire to do things that make a difference.
Over a certain level of income (around $40,000 a year) each dollar you earn delivers a diminishing rate of return on your happiness. Yet repeated studies have shown that committing to a goal larger than ourselves and having a strong sense of community is what makes us happy. And thankfully there are plenty of opportunities to find work that matters – both here and overseas.
5. Jump on Jetstar
The other day at my local café I watched a bloke blow a gasket after he was given a cappuccino instead of a latte. Talk about ‘First World problems’.
When you travel you soon appreciate that many of your problems aren’t really problems at all. Australia is the richest place on earth. Even if you’re dirt poor here, you’re still wealthy: you’ve got a shot at getting a job, and you have access to free healthcare and education.
Have you ever wondered why Australia hosts hundreds of thousands of international students, but relatively few of our students study overseas?
Some of the smartest people I know right now are working or studying in Asia. Everyone knows this is the Asian century – but only some are taking steps to make sure they’re part of it.
Safety is dead
Most kids don’t have enough life experience to make such an expensive and life-changing decision as choosing a uni course. So they end up being influenced by their well-meaning parents – but they are reading from a textbook that’s now out of print.
The fact is you can’t play it safe any more.
Over the next decade millions of poor, hungry, motivated graduates from developing countries will flood the employment market – unbound by geographical constraints – and they’ll do the work for less.
So what did I tell the fretting father? “Teach your son the value of a buck, and how it compounds over time. If he gets that right, time will make him wealthy – and his career will work itself out.”
Truth is, some of the most successful, creative and knowledgeable people I know don’t have fancy letters after their name – or only got them when they worked out their passion and went back and studied for it years later.