Multiple Opportunities Open Up for Career Training and Education

There was a time, in very recent history, that a four-year college degree was touted and considered by most Americans as the solution to a well-trained mind and, ultimately, long-term career. No longer. As Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan reminds us in his famous 1964 album, “The times they are a changin’.”

According to, in 2017, Americans are burdened by more student loan debt than ever. The statistics are mind-boggling. Americans owe over $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers. In fact, the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year.

An in-depth article in the online version of the highly-respected publication, Consumer Reports, describes the dilemma of four-year college and advanced degree student loan debt much better than I can. The report points out that, “a generation ago, the federal government opened its student loan bank to profit-making corporations. Private-equity companies and Wall Street banks seized on the flow of federal loan dollars, peddling loans students sometimes could not afford and then collecting fees from the government to hound students when they defaulted.”

“Step by step, one law after another has been enacted by Congress to make student debt the worst kind of debt for Americans—and the best kind for banks and debt collectors.”

“Today, just about everyone involved in the student loan industry makes money off of the students—the banks, private investors, even the federal government.”

“At the same time, societal changes conspired to drive up the basic need for these loans: Middle-class incomes stagnated, college costs soared, and states retreated from their historical investment in public universities.” (Consumer Reports, June 28, 2016)

While this sobering trend continues, parents, their young adult children and adults seeking to complete or continue their educations are finding out that a college degree is not for everyone – and is not always necessary to succeed in a career. Alternatives to a four-year credit-based college degree are emerging. For instance, Western Governors University, an on-line, private, non-profit university, offers competency-based education saving its 80,000 students thousands of dollars in expensive credit hours to obtain their degrees.

More examples of innovative, career-based education include technical training centers, associate’s degrees, licensing programs, certification programs and credentialing institutes. In Hampton Roads, a plethora of these education alternatives are available. Through organizations ranging from associations to for-profit and non-profit institutions, career training is available in the shipbuilding, health care and technology industries, to name a few.

As non-traditional, less expensive career education vehicles emerge, it is becoming clear to employers that potential employees must have a greater variety of choices to receive training for a career, especially when student loan debt is a primary obstacle.

Retail is one of the most egalitarian industries in our country. A person can come from any economic, educational, cultural, gender or age group and be a successful retailer. Yet, for all of the possibilities retail offers, there are still challenges for potential business owners. Expensive, traditional venues for education, such as colleges and universities have not proven themselves up to the task of effectively preparing many, if not most, future retail owners. The programs these institutions provide tend to be problematic since, often:

  • They are focused more on the theoretical than the practical,
  • They frequently require academic prerequisites that have no correlation to successful retailing,
  • They do not focus on the needs and requirements of adult, non-traditional learners,
  • The methods, schedules and calendars for instructional delivery are not convenient or readily accessible to those involved in running a retail business, and
  • Accreditation requirements frequently (although often unintentionally) create barriers to access.

The organization I direct, Retail Alliance, has recently launched the Center for Retail Excellence (CRE). The new center provides timely, relevant and accessible educational opportunities for existing and aspiring retailers. Our aim is to help fill the long-recognized void, opening up economic and vocational opportunities, not only for aspiring retailers, but for those they will eventually employ.

CRE is a certification program. Students who complete the course work receive a Certificate in Retail Operations. The program is taught partly online, for convenience and accessibility, and partly face-to-face, for networking and support. There are no academic prerequisites for participation. To receive the certificate, students must achieve a seven-part course designed to provide them with the preparation necessary to inaugurate a successful retail business in Virginia. The cost: a reasonable $1000 per student. Students have the option of a payment plan. And for those who do not wish to pursue the full curriculum, courses may be selected and paid for as needed.

Most of us can agree that education is the portal to a good job. Our trade association encourages other industry-specific (serving one sector of business) groups to consider starting similar certification education efforts. Specialization – becoming an expert in one field – is one way to achieve career stability in a turbulent, ever-changing economy. And achieving expertise does not have to burden a career seeker with debilitating debt. Depending upon individual circumstances and goals, a practical, reality-based certification program which provides students a worthy “toolbox” of skills upon completion can be the best choice for a career seeker who is pursuing his or her career of choice.




Raymond J. Mattes, III


Retail Alliance

838 Granby Street

Norfolk, VA  23510

757-455-9321 (work)

757-406-9421 (cell)