I’tikaaf is one of the Sunnah matters and seeking knowledge is better than i’tikaaf, so if the situation calls for a choice between i’tikaaf and seeking knowledge, we would say, seek knowledge. I’tikaaf is one of sunnah acts and it is not an obligation. In fact some scholars even disagreed that it is sunnah, rather it is a desirable act only.
Therefore, if it is one of the sunnah matters, then a person’s fulfillment of an obligation is better than his i’tikaaf, and his quest for knowledge is better than his i’tikaaf. Based on this, whoever is employed then doing the job is better than his i’tikaaf, and whoever is seeking knowledge, then his pursuit of knowledge is better than i’tikaaf.