Pyramid Strategy for Successful Academic and Career Planning

Most parents do not start their children’s primary education with goals in mind, with personal objectives. But, when public education in America was in its infancy, there were underlying objectives associated with its foundation. Horace Mann’s public education philosophies were implemented to assure the success of the fledgling  American Industrial Revolution. They were developed to a large degree for the purpose of assuring that America’s young citizens were sufficiently educated to perform necessary care of equipment and to manage the new manufacturing infrastructure developing across our young America. We now need new strategies for successful academic and career planning.

Now, with a growing disconnect between employers, and U.S. educational systems (primary through advanced degrees), with a lesser assurance of the value of any certificate or diploma in the marketplace, you must have your own plan. High-quality STEM and technical schools explicitly define their objectives, including the provision of certificates, diplomas or degrees you may earn, as well as jobs and markets that their programs serve. You should also be able to determine the effectiveness of these schools regarding their abilities to graduate and place their students into quality work.

To the extent possible regarding your interests and options available, make appropriately informed decisions about these schools even at the elementary level. Also look at the details of pathways leading to public servant positions including: fireman, EMS technician, military, law enforcement, border patrol, public education, gas/electric construction and repair services, water systems maintenance, natural resources management (e.g., forestry, waterways, ports, bays, lakes, and oceans care), transportation, infrastructure construction/maintenance (e.g., roads, bridges), medical care, mortuary science (people die), city, regional, state, and national political management. Medical and legal services are not exported.

All of the above-noted pathways are stable, legitimate career pathways that should not be exported; although you must watch local governments that may open contract bidding foreign entities, exporting jobs, importing foreign laborers, at our expense. Moreover, these paths are very direct in their education and skills development, with an evident application. Whereas unchecked, contemporary educational systems often promote educational content without specific utility. Instead, above-listed highly-paid career paths and positions that deserve to be filled by well-trained personnel go unnoticed and sometimes spurned by students. 

Liberal Arts (LA) colleges and associated programs generally do not attempt to be explicit regarding their ability to successfully train students to excel in specific areas, sans teaching via advanced degrees. In fact, some institutions condescend to the market, suggesting that their objective is to expand students’ ability to think, compare and create; not to perform specific things. Such implies that all of us who do specific things and perform measurable tasks are not contemplative, and cannot think beyond our obligatory market-serving tasks.

Schools should exist to help with relevant knowledge acquisition, skills development, and enhancement, and to assist you in effective career placement. So, admissions recruiters and department representatives may be slow to respond, vague, and somewhat defensive if unable to explicitly demonstrate their effectiveness. Such is simply a reminder that you should have your own objectives, strategies, and plans before considering the merits of specific technical education, colleges, and universities.

The Pyramid Strategy

The following is applicable for the very young student or the more seasoned person in the throes of career development. The challenge for the latter is that of constructing a relevant pyramid and placing him/herself at the appropriate location in the strategy-diagram. After research, define the position that would be the top position in the area(s) of expertise in which you are interested. If you have more than one very distinct interest, you need to create a pyramid for each top position.

  • Level 1 –  Refer to the desired, top position as Position #1.

  • Level 2 – If you were unable to reach position #1, what is/are the next most desired, similar/related position(s) for which your [actual/anticipated] training, experience, and interests would make you most qualified? Refer to that/those position(s) as Level 2. Note that #2 positions in direct vertical paths may be seen as goals to be reached if moving upward, points at which you may halt/stop if #1 position is not accessible. Then, you re/focus, on additional education, knowledge and skills development, and experience acquisition (EKSE) applicable to position #1, the pursuit of alternative 2a-2n positions (if more than one), or alternatives at Level 1 (i.e., 1a-1n), distinct from #1 if desired and you believe yourself to be qualified. 

  • Level 3 – As you descend Levels, the more peripheral positions and required education, knowledge, skills and experiences should not be as challenging and difficult to access compared to above Levels. However, alternative and complementary knowledge, skills and experiences may be required, as discussed above. As such, these EKSE cost additional time and monetary investment. The fast track to position #1 on Level 1 is the direct interlevel vertical path. However, the further you must, or are willing to diverge from the midline, the longer it takes to advance without significant social or financial resources. Otherwise, the windows of opportunity, preparedness, resources, and support must all intersect with action, at the right time.

  • Level 4 to Level n – Your personal pyramid may be as many layers deep as are relevant to you.

Some might ask “Why refer to the process as a pyramid when from your start point you could head anywhere?” First, the baseline is broadest at the onset, when your interests may be most diverse (even if not detailed well), and time available to allocate is greatest. Second, the suggestion is that after diligent consideration, you know exactly what you want and can point straight upward to the pinnacle of your objective. At the onset, with less commitment to your objective, the base number of possibilities is greatest. But, as choices are made, with investment (time, money, effort), focused learning, skills development, and experience, you are increasingly committing to a narrowed pathway, whether you describe it as pyramidal (2D) or inverted cone (3D).

You need to engage in continuous research and strategy evolution as you build levels. As you proceed, consider the probability of reaching position Level 1 is small and relevant education, knowledge/skills development, experience, costs are significant. Although engaging this process is arduous, it is meaningful. But, your beliefs, physical attributes, education, knowledge and skills, experience, resources, persisting interests and other factors may not intersect opportunities as you would wish. So, the strategic planning pyramid may illuminate paths for you prior to proceeding. Your plan can only be as robust as you (or your advisers) are mature, your resources sufficient, your counselors insightful and capable, willing and available to work with you, and you are willing and able to execute and modify the plan over time. Of equal or greater importance is that you also learn to recognize distractions, distracting people, unhealthy behaviors, undesirable beliefs, and messages, no matter the sources, judiciously addressing them so that they do not impede your progress. So, young readers, get your high-quality advisers aboard now!

Education in the Pyramid Strategy

Consider objectives at primary school, middle school, high school, technical, two-year or four-year college, graduate and professional school, and related post-educational apprenticeships, internships, residencies and fellowship training. All of these systems may not be relevant, strategic components to reach your objectives. But, where they are applicable, it is important to develop associated skeleton paths and flush out details as soon as you are able.

Course/training content and strategies for success at every level, as well as plans for responses to suboptimal (even poor) performance, should be developed in advance (personal Retention Program). All progress issues should be addressed via salvage versus redirection plans, setting new interim to new goals as briskly as is possible. For example, if as a prospective Data Analyst you see that your objective requires excelling in mathematics, as well as learning to code in a number of languages, but your skills are not as should be, it would be much more ideal to have considered reparatory strategies and alternative pathways in advance, avoiding feeling helpless, stuck and believing yourself to be a failure. The example also points to the desirability of flushing out primary paths with sufficient lead time and detail, but to include interim performance metrics, and other progress assessments to address errors in objective and qualitative projections.


Most schools do not promote delivery of market-valuable education. Rather, they sell the “opportunity” for students to develop themselves in robust, information based, culturally robust, experience-rich environments. As such, increasing numbers of students, even if graduating from high school, and college, manage to do so with knowledge and diverse experiences, but many fewer quality job prospects than anticipated.  And, hosts of college students are saddled with long-term debt. This usually transpires because, from the onset of their education, the students, families, market and educational systems fail to work cooperatively. Generally, the family, friends, and customary support persons do not know to initiate these considerations and processes. At other times their efforts are overwhelmed by surrounding,  sometimes adverse marketing influences including the students’ own inertia (resistance to change how they think about education).

This Pyramid Strategy for academic and career planning is applicable for the young and the older student. ISG Success believes your success matters. can Succeed independently or more efficiently, with coaching.

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