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In the classroom vs. out in the field

My family assumed I would go to college when I was growing up, the only question being which university. So I’m surprised that many of my friends with college-age children are debating between education versus training.

One friend’s son, for example, has aspirations to become a technology entrepreneur and wants to forgo college for a technology start-up school in Denver. He’s making a convincing argument that a degree doesn’t mean as much as it used to and my friend is starting to recognize that there is a whole new paradigm in today’s job market.

I kept thinking about the idea of whole new paradigm when reading a blog post by the former chairman of Microsoft India titled, “Why it’s so hard to be a business leader in India.” The blog post makes the argument that India is one of the best incubators for next-generation global leaders. It lists the biggest challenges of doing business in India, such as India’s fragmented consumer markets, pervasive corruption, mindboggling bureaucracy and HR deficiencies. These challenges according to the blog post, are why India makes a good managerial testing ground for succeeding anywhere.

Is a two-year job posting in India the new Harvard MBA? A few years ago, I met a young woman in the city of Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) who was an IT professional born and raised in London. She moved to Bengaluru with no job in hand but quickly found a position in the city with an American multinational. She quickly moved up the ranks and soon she was managing a group of 30 IT professionals.

This woman is now is in the process of implementing a new division of the company that she developed and pitched to senior management in the U.S. She’s delighted that her experience in India has helped her leapfrog over her peers back in London, who are just beginning to enter managerial roles. Her India and management experience makes her a highly sought after leader in the global workforce.

She admits her parents weren’t supportive when she first made the decision to move to India without a job: they wanted her to obtain a graduate degree. But she harbors no ill will towards her parents because she’s confident they couldn’t have replicated her success when they first entered the workforce 25 years ago.

In February, President Obama used his state of the Union address to introduce the College Scorecard to help parents and students compare schools. But how does this analysis help when many bright young adults are bypassing a college degree for alternative training? How do parents guide their kids?  How do employers evaluate education versus experience?