My Opinion

I’m going to go out on a limb here and discuss, or maybe throw out my thoughts is a better way to put it, college degrees versus trade school education.  Melanie talked about this idea in one of her posts, and it got me thinking of the people I’ve worked with over the years.  They were a mixed bag for sure.  Many had degrees, and just as many did not.  What was the difference, you might ask?  Common sense is my answer.

So, off we go into the world of academics for better or worse.  If you have an opinion or viewpoint you would like to share; please do.  I will repost it with your permission if you so desire.

College Degree

Let me set the table for my perspective first.  I don’t have a fancy BS, BA, or MBA, or any of those other alphabet degrees.  I have a lowly ASC (Associate degree) in mechanical engineering from a two-year college in Columbus, Ohio.  When I went to college, the manufacturing world looked for technical people to interface between their engineering departments and shop floor personnel.  The idea of going back and forth between the two sounded like a good idea to me.

I wasn’t ready to sit in an office all day thinking up gee-whiz gizmos.  I liked to make things, and that’s what the manufacturing shop did.  Likewise, I didn’t want to be tied to a boring machine all day making the same widget over and over.  The idea of being a liaison sounded pretty cool.  Thinking a job is cool is one thing – actually getting there is another.

I started school in September of 1964.  It was a small start-up college called Columbus Area Technician School – CATS for short.  (It has since turned into a full-blown university with several thousand students.)  We met in downtown Columbus, sharing space with Central High School due to a lack of our own building.   Sharing a building with high school kids is not a good thing to do.  There were many issues that most of us college kids rebelled against, such as smoking on campus (not me), having a break room, etc.  It was a constant fight with the Columbus Board of Education over rules for each group.

The second year, we had our building.  The school purchased an abandoned Catholic High School called Saint Aquinas and began holding classes there in 1965.  This was a much better situation.  We had our own street gangs, flophouses, houses of ill repute, a butcher shop, and neighbors who blocked off the streets for car races.  Have you guessed yet the building was in a seedy part of town?

Be that as it may, classes went on.  For both years of my education, I carried an average of 17 hours of classes per quarter.  To pay for this, I worked in a grocery store at night an average of 25-30 hours a week.  If you’ve been a college student yourself, you are beginning to see I’m burning the candle at both ends.  One saving grace was that my parents (recently divorced) allowed me to live at home rent-free.  I would never have graduated, but for that fact.  Oh, ya, there was a girlfriend in that mix that wanted attention too.


I graduated on June 10, 1966, and started working at Rockwell Automotive on the 13th.  I would work there for 19-1/2 years before leaving.  During my tenure, I met and worked with some amazing people.   We made our own gearing for our finished product – heavy-duty truck axles.  The wizard who kept all of that running was Jim Walkenspaw.  He held a master’s degree in engineering and had the mechanical aptitude to go along with it.  No one argued with Jim about gearing.

Then, a new shop superintendent (I can’t recall his name) had a degree in Physical Education.  He was the top-dog on the second shift, the arbiter of arguments between manufacturing and quality control.  Yes, he had a degree, but he was dumb as a rock when it came to our products.  He had no clue where our products were used.  He didn’t know any of the nomenclatures, machining practices, nothing.  Yet, the company put him in charge of an entire union manufacturing facility because he had a degree.

Oh, it doesn’t matter what his degree is; the company told us  He isn’t supervising workers directly; he’s managing processes.  Huh?  That’s what the way upper management believed and preached to us on the shop floor.  Never mind, the guy was dumb as a rock and couldn’t make a competent decision on any issue.  Never mind that he passed most critical decisions to daylight for resolution – he had a degree.


When I went to IBM, my hiring was shaky because I didn’t have a full BS in something, only the associate degree.  For me, my experience carried the day.  Twenty years in manufacturing carried a lot of weight, as it should.  They hired me to support IBM’s CAD/CAM product list consisting of CADAM, CATIA, APT, and NCPG.  I’ll give you a definition of all those acronyms at the end of this post.  For now, understand they are computer-aided design and manufacturing software packages.  The software allows a user to model an object and simulate manufacturing cycles on a computer screen rather than going to the expense of running a real test part.  The money and time savings of getting from design to product should be obvious even for a novice.

IBM had hundreds of marketing reps out and about selling these products without knowing what they did.  They couldn’t talk the language; they knew nothing about machine tools, they didn’t know how to answer questions.  That’s where my job came in.  I was hired to, again, be the liaison between marketing and the customer.  I traveled all over the US, making customer calls with marketing reps to answer “techy” questions.  I did customer demos at our site in LA, where I talked my boss into buying a small benchtop CNC mill, lathe, and coordinate measuring machine.  These were the tools customers used in their everyday business.  We were to show them we could handle their work; we had to do it in our lab physically.  We had to show them how we designed the part, programmed it to run on our machines, make it, inspect it, and hand it to them.  Just trying to blow smoke at them with sales bull shit would not work.  The guys in the trenches who used our products wanted more.

My manager and I never saw eye-to-eye on that issue.  He also had a degree in marketing but knew nothing about manufacturing.  His philosophy was to do the marketing to VP-level people in the company.  “I can take money out of those folks pockets anytime I want.  It’s those techy bastards the cause trouble.”  He would not go into a marketing situation if there were end-users in the room.  He was intimidated by their questions.  They were taking money out of his pocket because he couldn’t make the sale to them.

No Degree And Trade Schools

Then there are people in this world who, by some happenstance of birth, are given a talent that should be admired and given more credence than it now holds.  That is natural ability and common sense.  Some people can look at an object and tell you how it works, never seeing a schematic or drawing.  They know.  They are good with their hands; they can build things without drawings or guidelines.  They have an uncanny ability to create beautiful objects out of nothing.

There are those business people who have a sense of timing, for lack of a better word, about running a company.  They create products that overwhelm the market with buyers.  Granted, some of the products are frivolous, but making them successful is the key point.  The entrepreneur who created the product is often a young person with no degree.  They shunned college to pursue an idea and make it a success.  Why does the business world look down on those people?

I had a guy working for me named Willard Thompson.  Willard was my “go to” guy when I wanted extra little projects finished.  But, there was a problem.  If I told him, “Willard, I want you to go do such-and-such,” he wouldn’t know what I was talking about.  If I told him, “Willard, it sure would be nice if such-and-such got done today.”  By the end of the shift, the task would be completed beyond my expectations.  We cannot judge a person’s ability to work based on a stupid degree.

There is a man named Titan Gilroy who created a trade school of sorts to teach people the CNC machining business.  Click on the link to read a fascinating back story on him.  His staff has created hundreds of online tutorials for their students.  They do this while running his shop in Flower Mound, Texas.  There are no formal settings, no classrooms other than the student’s home or shop.  There is no building you have to go to for classes.  His curriculum is open to anyone worldwide, willing to learn.  The online FaceBook support group helps many students with problems as it is viewed by many “grey beards” like me.  Those of us with experience in the industry offer advice and tips to solve problems.

The amazing thing is, many of the students have gone on to start their own machine shops!  No degree involved!  Just plain hard work, common sense, and perseverance – no BS involved.  Why does big business frown on that?

Final Thoughts

I had to figure out the skills and personalities of all the people who worked for me at Rockwell.  I had to listen and figure out what Mr. Customer really wanted during marketing sessions at IBM.  All the marketing reps wanted was to make their sales quota.  You don’t need a degree for that.  Colleges and universities don’t teach that skill, so why on Earth does the business world look down on people who have that experience but not the degree?  That thought has been a thorn in my side for years.  I have never understood the logic.

Maybe the corporate world has gotten so high and mighty; they believe their own press releases?  Most of them are sheer bull shit.  I don’t think CEOs are much in tune with anyone below a VP level in the organization.  Nor do I believe they are in tune with the discrimination going on in their hiring practices.  They may claim to, but I’m calling “liar, liar, pants on fire” on that one.

At one time, there was a real person named Rockwell at the head of the company.  Colonel Willard Rockwell had a habit of showing up unannounced at a plant, taking a tour, and then writing a report to the plant manager based on what he saw.  His visits usually came on off shifts.   One night he came to our plant.  What fun that was!

I saw him walking down the aisle and went to greet him.  I knew what he was up to and was giddy at the prospect of people getting their butts chewed – quite a few needed it.  He walked with me down my line for a while as he asked questions.  I noticed a problem and excused myself to take care of it. As I started to walk away, he admonished me, “don’t call anyone to let them know I’m here.”  “No, sir,” I said.  We shook hands, and he left.  The report came back spelling out a laundry list of changes to be made – including the termination of a couple of people.  The all-hands meeting was quite interesting.

That’s involvement.  I don’t think business leaders today would dream of doing something like that.  Why should they get out of bed at 2-3 am to visit a plant unannounced?  Business is lazy, and the status it gives to earning a degree or not is obsolete.


CADAM  =  Computer-Aided Design And Manufacturing,
CATIA =  Computer-Aided Three Dimensional Application ®  Dassault Systemes, France
APT =  Automatically Programmed Tool 
NCPG =  Numerical Control Postprocessor Generator  

#businessdegrees, #associatedegrees, #tradeschools

Hokey Gram – College Degree vs. Trade School

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