I, too, worked in instrumentation, despite having no formal qualifications in that field:
- for several years, I maintained a registered calibration laboratory (car battery manufacturing).
- then later, I was in charge of all instrument maintenance (both fixed and portable) for a power supply company.
Additionally, I have worked extensively with all facets of protection relay testing, with no higher qualifications than a paper in Advanced Trade Studies.
However, there always comes a point where, without the benefit of higher qualifications, you strike the proverbial brick wall. For example, in relay testing, clients were always asking for advice on what settings should be applied to their relays. Without the mathematical skills and theoretical knowledge that is taught at either Diploma level or higher, though, you don't dare provide any such guidance (Such nasties as Earth Rise Potential, Pole Slip or Negative Sequence Currents - all of which, if you get it wrong, can either kill somebody or cause irreversible damage to plant).
In other words, the relay technician can sell the protection system to the client, install it, test it, commission it; do everything except calculate the setting levels to apply. Often, this came as something of a let down to the client - a case of "why did you not tell us this when you submitted your quote for the project?"
As a young JW, I heard every explanation as to why a College Education "was not necessary" - even to the point that, supposedly, "you can get paid more for unskilled work, than skilled work." It did not take me long to figure out that this was nonsense, of course! Where I currently work, a Graduate Engineer's income is roughly double that of a Licensed Electrician (and more than double that of a Mechanical Fitter). A tradesman could get the same remuneration as that by taking on remote site work (as I did for a number of years), but even on remote sites, a Graduate Engineer's rates are correspondingly higher again. During the recession of the early 1990s, in order to get any sort of a decent paying job at all, I had to take on remote site work (without Degree level qualifications, there was just nothing else available during those years).
Unfortunately, this did not just drive another nail into the coffin of our family life - it stitched into it an entire row of nails. (I could write a whole book about that, but not right now!)
So, yes, having learned what I know from the "University of Hard Knocks", I do take an exceedingly dim view on those who are down on Higher Education.
On a positive note, I class myself as lucky as having been able to get into a trade (I was 24 when I began the apprenticeship). One only has to look through the door into the Production Area at the plant where I work to see what the alternative would have been:
- working on the Production Line in a Meat Packing plant is a grim prospect, with an even grimmer future to it; within the next five to ten years, most of that work will be performed by robots.