Does college matter, or does experience trump education? 

Manta, a community for small business owners, recently attempted to answer that question with a survey issued to nearly 1000 of its members, and the results are surprising.

While 69 percent of survey takers have a college education, 32 percent of that group say college didn’t make a difference in their success. Half of small business owners have staff members without college degrees, and 62 percent say they didn’t notice a difference in performance among staff with a college degree. 

What does this mean for the pool and spa industry? As a field powered by small business, as a field that boasts a broad spectrum of occupations (and only some of which require a college degree) and as a field where business prowess and old-fashioned hard work are equally valued, does a college degree really matter?

It’s an interesting question — and one you can discuss in the comments — especially in light of the generational change now occurring in this industry. 

I’m working on a story right now about succession and how retiring industry veterans plan to pass on their businesses. (You can read it in the October issue.) As aging small business owners look for an exit strategy, they’re finding one big problem: a lack of young people interested in joining the industry. 

I spoke to George LaPorte, owner of The Pool Store in Bullhead City, Ariz., who had this to say:

“I don’t think we reach [young people] early enough to drag them into the industry. I think we need to approach it somewhere between high school and college and tell them there is this industry here, that it is a good industry and we need people.”

I interpreted it this way: The industry needs to target high school students before they go to college so they:

A) Go to college, aware of how their education can benefit them in this industry.
B) Perhaps forgo (or postpone) college in favor of a career they can start right now — in essence, choose the experience-over-education route. 

We live in a society where college is viewed as the new normal, but in light of ever-rising tuition rates, a student loan crisis and a tough job market, we’re also in a time where the real value of a college education is under scrutiny — something which could present an opportunity for pool and spa pros to start a new dialogue and attract new candidates to the industry. 

What do you think — is college necessary to be successful in the pool and spa industry? What can industry pros do to attract a new generation of employees?  

Cailley Hammel is Managing Editor of AQUA Magazine.