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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Misconception about Education and Competitiveness

To prepare yourself for the job market, you first have to clear a widespread misconception about education, which is what this post is about.

The Influence of Confucian Philosophy

Under the influence of Confucian philosophy, the Chinese (and probably other Asians as well) place an overwhelming emphasis on formal education and academic results. Kids are raised to believe that they need to do well in school in order to have a bright future.

This phenomenon is spreading to other parts of the world. When Asian American children do well in exams, Caucasian parents feel the pressure to push kids to study harder.

This claim may not do justice to Western intellectual traditions though. In fact, knowledge and critical thinking have always been held in high regard in the West too, as seen from the ancient Greek civilization to Francis Bacon’s famous saying, “Knowledge is power.” Today, this tradition continues as politicians and commentators insist that higher education is the key to a country’s future.

No doubt, knowledge is valuable, and academic research is important to the progress of human civilization. But media reports that equate education with success have led many kids (and many parents) to believe that the smarter you’re and the better you’ve done in school, the better your job will be in the future. The question is, Is this really the case?
The Myth of Education

Sadly, that good grades today mean a good job tomorrow is nothing but a myth. If only life is so simple. The truth is, except for a few science and engineering jobs, employers don’t care that much about the knowledge you’ve acquired in college.

What your future boss cares about is the value you can generate for the organization. As you can imagine, a profound knowledge of Roman history or planetary systems doesn’t help the majority of businesses and organizations achieve their objectives. While knowledge is the focus of college education (and one may argue this should be the case), skills are what employers are looking for.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying college education is unimportant for your career. A college degree is now a prerequisite for many jobs, and good grades from a good university signal to potential employers that you’re smart and can self-learn effectively. Besides, most successful people, including most successful entrepreneurs, have a college degree.

Yes, education is important. But as Benjamin Franklin said, “Half a truth is often a great lie.” Students will only be disappointed if they falsely expect a college degree – even with many A’s on the report card in this era of grade inflation will translate into a dream job (though the reputation of a top school like Harvard and Princeton will undoubtedly help).

Students need to remember that college curriculum isn’t designed with the specific aim to prepare for one’s career. Good grades and high qualifications don’t necessarily translate into productive work performance, even for technical fields like engineering. As Michael Schrage points out, there is no guarantee that a PhD in computer science is also a good programmer.

The Purpose of College Education

So, what is the true purpose of college if it isnt doing a good job to prepare us for our career? To the society as a whole, one main purpose of college education is to train students to be an independent thinker and to build a more civilized society.

On an individual level, college is the place to explore and expand your academic interests. It also gives you a wonderful opportunity to find yourself and understand your values and motivations.

In any case, formal education is only part of the equation when it comes to job search and career development. If you want a promising career, a lot of your learning should take place outside the classroom. Well discuss what skills you need to work on and practice outside school in the next post.

P.S. From this post onward, Ill ask questions at the end of each post to stimulate your thoughts and invite participation. Hopefully we can collect and share more ideas and insights on this site.
Questions: Do you believe that today’s college students overly rely on formal schooling in their career preparation? And what do you think is the true purpose of college education?

Friday, June 22, 2012

How to Increase Your Competitiveness and Land Your Dream Job

Competition among firms has become more intense in recent years, as firms need to compete across borders in the age of globalization. Similarly, in the labor market, competition is increasing because we now need to compete with workers from all over the world.
In the pursuit of lower costs, companies have automated production processes and offshored operations to countries like India and Bangladesh. In most developed countries, unemployment rates are high by historical standards. It seems increasingly hard to have the job of your dreams.
But no worries! This 4-part series will show you the key to career success and fulfillment. Click the links to unlock the secrets to getting your dream job:
Hopefully you’ll find this series helpful in your personal and career development. You’re most welcome to leave a comment or raise a question. Thank you and I wish you a fulfilling career!

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Future of the Euro Area: Growing Closer or Falling Apart?

Last time, we argued that monetary expansion is necessary to pull the PIIGS out of recession and the debt crisis. In the final post of this series, I’ll discuss the outlook for the European Monetary Union. While this crisis is an opportunity to address the deep-rooted problems in the eurozone, European leaders must decide at what cost they’re willing to preserve the currency union.

An Opportunity to Achieve Closer Integration

After two world wars, Europe came to realize that prosperity can only come with continental peace and stability. Since then, closer cooperation and integration have been Europe’s goals. The eurozone was set up in the late 1990s as part of the efforts to promote peace and integration.

However, the eurozone has always had structural problems, since it comprises vastly diverse economies which without fiscal union shouldn’t be allowed to use the same currency. The problems, which were obscured in good economic times, have been exposed in the financial crisis. It’s now clear that the absence of two institutions threatens the stability and sustainability of the eurozone.

First, to improve financial stability and market confidence, Europe needs a unified banking authority that monitors the industry and recapitalizes troubled banks when necessary. Second, a central authority with power over taxation, which ensures fiscal responsibility and provides a framework of fiscal transfers, is necessary to any sustainable monetary union.

Their absence has long been an obstacle to European integration, but only in a crisis can these structural problems be addressed. The current challenges have made it clear that the continued existence of the euro depends on the success of reforms. This sense of urgency and the high stakes involved have presented Europe with a perfect opportunity for closer integration.

Conflicting Interests among Euro Members

However, integration incurs painful sacrifices and is easier said than done. On one hand, the peripheral countries have to endure the pain of austerity measures and labor market reforms, which include cutting welfare spending to improve labor market efficiency and reduce economic distortions. Germany, on the other hand, is burdened with costly bailouts.

On top of the sacrifices, euro members have found it extremely hard to reach an agreement due to conflicting interests. Basically, Germany wants to spend the least possible to prop up the eurozone, while other euro members (with the exception of the Netherlands) are trying to get the most from Germany. Given the difficulty of cooperation, few concrete steps have been taken to solve the crisis.

Indeed, European leaders are still deeply divided on how to save the euro. Though deposit insurance may be the only way to save the currency union, Germany’s reluctance to insure over 2 trillion euros worth of deposits in Italy and Spain is perfectly reasonable.

Germany opposes the idea of euro bonds as well. The objection is justified though. The issuance of euro bonds will take the pressure off politicians and slow down structural reforms. More importantly, countries like France and Italy propose debt mutualization because they want Germany to share the cost of future spending. No wonder Germany rejects the deal.

Meanwhile, Germany is taking measures to minimize losses in the event of a breakup. Some argue Germany is bailing out Greece for its self-interest too. By propping up Greece’s banks, Germany can spread out the debt burden of Greece across all euro members.

Ironically, what was intended to create peace and prosperity has turned into a dysfunctional partnership that threatens the world economy. But it’s hardly surprising that every euro member is protecting and fighting for its self-interest. After all, the eurozone is composed of independent sovereigns with people of different national identities.

Breakup not the End of the World

If euro members lack the commitment to closer integration, then the exit of some countries, or even a breakup of the euro, is the only feasible option in the long term. Both a German exit (which some believe to make more economic sense than a Greek exit) and the exit of the “Club Med” countries could work.

In the case of a German exit, politicians can sell the idea abroad as a noble sacrifice to correct the imbalances within the eurozone. Internally, they can persuade voters that an exit means they no longer have to waste money on rescue packages.

The bottom line is the same rule applies in love and in politics: If different parties can’t settle their differences, then a breakup is all for the best. And a breakup of the euro doesn’t have to be the end of European cooperation. Members can remain good friends even after breakup, just like what couples do.

P.S. Sorry for the delay of this post. I was busy preparing for the CFA exam, and I just had a trip to Phuket last week. Now I’m ready to blog again. Please stay tuned for a series of new posts on personal development next week!

(Entry 4 of 4 in the Update on the Euro Debt Crisis series)