Mr, Cupcake at Craters of the Moon

Mr, Cupcake at Craters of the Moon
Mr. Cupcake at Craters of the Moon

Monday, January 9, 2012

The value of a piece of paper

I have a Master of Science degree in Health Information Science. Most people with this (HINF) degree are either clinicians wanting to deepen their skills and perhaps encourage greater linkages with the field of informatics, or are people with a programming background with an eye toward management. I fall into neither category, as my first degree is a Bachelor of Arts in English.

In 2005 I started the Bachelor's program for Health Information Science, as I was advised, and I completed half that degree (to gain experience in the field) before switching to the Master's program. One could say I have two and a half degrees, or one and a half bachelor's and a master's. Of course I have nothing denoting my half a bachelor's degree, I only hold two pieces of paper.

When I enrolled in 2005, we were basically told that a degree in this burgeoning field was a license to print money, the world was our oyster, blah blah blah. Then what happened? I don't know, perhaps the world economy caused a shift in the need for health informatics professionals because when the time came, lots of people in my field found themselves scrambling, even those who graduated at the top of the class.

I think I have mentioned before that because I have a weird set of skills and background for someone with this MSc, it makes me a bit of an anomaly. The skill set I pursued was that of qualitative health informatics research, not programming. That, and I can write.

I have been thinking a lot over these past few years about my work and the nature of work in general. While I was writing my Morning Pages this morning, I was musing how whenever I had to compete for a job among many others, and under which there is strict criteria for a position, that even though I may have interviewed well, I might not have answered the questions right to score the points. I have often grumbled about my resume or curriculum vitae not making it through the keyword search software that some large organizations use when trying to weed out potentially inadequate candidates.

Truth is, I'm not sure I want to work for an organization where I have to fight that fight - to jump through just the right hoops (as in craft my resume with just the right key words) just to get an interview. Some of the best jobs I've had have come from word of mouth or by people who knew me just offering me work. I don't know what kind of opportunities will present themselves to me when I get to North Carolina, but I am excited about the prospects because I have a lot to offer in terms of workplace skills.

On Friday night, the friend I was staying with in Vancouver had arranged a dinner for a bunch of us HINF grads. I have the MSc, all my friends have BSc. One friend launched straight into pharmacy school after he graduated. Another is now in her second year of nursing school. Her husband joined the RCMP. I am technically unemployed, leaving only one of us, the friend I was staying with, to be the only one at the table actually working in the field we went to school for. And everyone was happy.

I found this extremely interesting. They were all good stories about why they are not working in HINF, why they are now following their dream. It turns out HINF is not a license to print money. I feel compelled to go back to the School at UVic and tell them this - that the people they are graduating are not happy with their career options once they graduate.

A few years ago I was at a conference and one of the discussions we had was about core competencies. What certain sets of skills should our graduates have, that employers can depend on? This conversation, as I recall, was occurring in tandem with a conversation about credentialing our field so we all had to carry licenses or be registered with a college of our own creation. I don't remember the sentiment in the room at the time but I am (now) strongly opposed to this idea.

Something I have discovered in the past ten years is when looking for work, employers, particularly ones of institutions like governments, health care organizations, and universities, are seeking applicants who have a long list of credentials. It seems like they want a piece of paper that confirms that you know how to use a keyboard, how to spell medical terms, how to change the toilet paper roll. Even though I have nearly nine years experience of working in the food service industry, I couldn't get a job in a restaurant now because I don't have my FoodSafe certificate. (This irks me greatly, because I was trained in these practices long before FoodSafe was a thing, I have the skills, I don't need a F#*&ing piece of paper to prove it). My issue, then, is that employers want evidence that the people they hire have the skills they need, when really, in my view, the piece of paper only indicates that the person did what was required in terms of jumping through hoops in order to get that piece of paper. Bare minimum, in some cases. It's like that old joke - what do they call the guy with the lowest grades in med school? Doctor.

I don't know how rampant this credentialization of work is, but it is absolutely stifling our workforce in British Columbia. And they wonder why people can't find jobs! They want me to take a FoodSafe course (for example, nobody really wants me to do this, I'm just speaking  hypothetically) so that I can handle food in a restaurant but really what they want is me to pay $80 to the college and I'm sure at some level, the government gets a cut of that. This leads then to the larger issue - the more things are regulated and licensed is just one more way the government makes money of the backs of the people who elected it.

So then when Dan and I were trying to claw our way out of the Pacific Rim, it was much easier for Dan to find work. He has a much broader skill set than mine (even though mine is also quite broad) but he has tons more work experience (I have spent nearly a decade in post secondary, remember) and dual citizenship. His resume is impressive and his skills are in high demand. He was lucky enough to find an employer who recognizes is skill and lets him use his brain at work. He has a certain level of responsibility as well as the freedom to be creative. They appreciate his talent. And like it or not, Dan had to go to America to get this job because things sure weren't working out for us in Canada. Dan is happy there in his job and he is certain that once I get there, I will have no problem finding work. I am excited about this. I am excited about working again and about working in a new environment - I'm a fast learner and can adapt well to new social settings. I also feel like the attitude is different. Maybe I'm jaded after being on the west coast for too long where there is such an "I'm better than you" attitude but I'm looking forward to being in a place where I can let my work speak for itself.

/end rant

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't have said it better myself.

    I'm trying to get into communications, where writing is an essential skill.

    Well, it seems my MA in English isn't enough to prove that I can communicate. No, I need a diploma in comms or PR to prove it. Because reading a book about comm theory and understanding the concepts well enough to apply them in the usual situations isn't enough. And obviously, those who have the certified skills get the calls, not me.

    I'm going to write a post soon about how I'm giving up the rat race for now. Seriously tired of this shit.