When my grandfather was a boy of 14, he started a career as a fireman that led to him being the chief of the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade in the 1930s. While he did this he gained an engineer’s certificate, but he was working, earning and building a career. He was not unusual at the beginning of the 20th century.This is something I tend to grouse about myself, as I now work in circles in which MBAs a very common (My current and previous job were both advertised as "MBA strongly preferred") while I have a BA only and that in Classics not a "professional" field.
My father, who managed to get himself ejected from the MMFB for conducting unauthorised and explosive chemistry experiments in the West Melbourne station, worked in radio from the age of 16. He never got a post-secondary qualification so far as I can discover. I left school at 16, and worked in a newspaper before I became a graphic artist and printer (without qualifications). I could have become a journalist if I had shown the determination, through a cadetship at the Herald and Weekly Times, even without matriculating.
However, now, students are expected to complete not year 10, or even 12, but a Bachelor’s degree, in order to even enter the professional workforce, and to have at least a Master’s degree to get ahead. This means that the very earliest one can start earning in full is around 24, a full decade later than my grandfather’s day, and if you continue to study, you might not begin to earn properly and start to even pay off your education debt before you are in your 30s.
I also have to wonder how sustainable the increasing credential inflation trend is as we get into generations in many Western countries which will be smaller than the previous ones. Having an increasingly small number of workers to support retirees seems unsustainable enough, encouraging those workers to not do much of anything until their late 20s or early 30s seems like an even worse idea.