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Saturday, April 19, 2014

The illumination of self-learning

Ed Stephens Jr.

Here’s wisdom from a Banzai cliff memorial that you’ve surely seen: “Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

That’s not only inspirational wisdom, it’s also very practical. It’s worth applying to the economic situation. After all, many folks on Saipan, despite having years of work experience under their belts, are feeling mighty helpless these days. So I’m going to mention how self-learning can help light some candles.

I’m not offering any glamorous platitudes here, or any magic solutions. There are no magic solutions. And the practical things in life are seldom glamorous.

So let’s just get on with it, shall we?

First of all, as for self-learning, I mean using part-time study to earn a credential or a marketable skill. This often entails ordering a course or other materials via the Web, sometimes from companies that specialize in such things.

This stuff doesn’t always lead to a good job, or even a lousy one, but neither does sitting on the couch watching TV, or hunkering down and hoping that things will spontaneously get better.

One realm of self-learning is the world of professional credentials, often involving licensing courses (test preparation) for things such as financial services (selling stocks, bonds, insurance, etc.) and real estate (sales or brokerage). Not all such stuff will have direct applicability in Saipan’s job market, but will instead be useful if you’re looking for work stateside, or even in Guam.

In the categories I just mentioned, passing a licensing test, by the way, is not the same as actually being granted the license. But it’s still a documented accomplishment that can attract the interest of employers. You do have to think a step ahead to ensure that whatever test you’re preparing for can be taken on Saipan, or wherever you are, at a computer test center. The one time I did this on Saipan I was able to take the test at Northern Marianas College.

Here’s a quick story: One of my friends got out of the military and she soon found herself trapped in a civilian office job that she didn’t like. Many adventurous people don’t like being confined to indoor spaces all day. She was looking for something, anything, to get her out of that office, so on a whim she went online and bought a real estate agent course. A few weeks later she took the written test.

She was hired by a brokerage soon thereafter, got her agent license, and as it turns out, she was a natural. This meshed with her active lifestyle, and she was always on the move going from one property to the next.

Here’s another story: I knew a professor who decided he’d sell municipal bonds as a sideline. So he took a self-study course, which led to his bond broker’s license, and soon he was cold-calling prospects to offer them municipal paper.

He didn’t like this line of work; in fact, it drove him absolutely bonkers. So he soon quit, much to the derisive sneers of co-workers, some of whom were happy to see a professor knocked down a few notches. The verdict, in other words: epic fail!

Meanwhile, here’s another realm that’s never too obvious to mention, so I’ll mention it: foreign language study.

The importance of this should be apparent to anyone on Saipan, and in particular to anyone who wants to participate in the rise of industrial Asia.

With the exception of tour guides and translators, I have not seen language skills on their own land anyone a job. On the other hand, combining a technical skill that’s in high demand (engineering, financial analysis, mathematics, etc.) with language skills can be a great ticket.

In fact, that’s not just a recent thing, nor is it limited to corporate jobs. I knew a few pilots who learned to speak Japanese in the 1990s, and this landed them jobs and clients in tourism venues.

The cruel trick of fate here is that the languages associated with Asia’s strongest economies, such as Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, are also the hardest languages for Westerners to learn. This will tax the resolve of any student, self-learning or otherwise. Of the four people I know who started studying Mandarin Chinese a few years ago, all of them eventually gave up.

Well, there you have it, some examples of success, and of failure, in the learning game. It’s not a guaranteed way out of jam, but, these days, if we’re not constantly moving ahead, then we’re probably falling behind.

Ah, there I go again, mixing my metaphors, using my penchant for motion to fuel a “move ahead” or “fall behind” gig when I really should be talking about candles and darkness. But on that note we’ve come full circle to where we started off to begin with, which is a tidy way to wind up a Friday.

Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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