How important is a degree to your career?

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25 Sep 2019
For job-seekers

This is a subject that we’re often asked about, and one that tends to stir up quite a heated debate! You can’t argue that some jobs require a very specific, standardised set of qualifications to be able to perform in the role – doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, vets, accountants; they all need to prove they are qualified to do the job. But there are a vast number of other professions that don’t depend on a base level of subject knowledge that can only be taught by a university.

Are graduates really better employees?

Job adverts that require applicants to hold a degree are commonplace, despite many of the roles not needing an assessed level of technical or theoretical knowledge. For these roles, it’s clear they aren’t looking for specific subject expertise from the qualification, so having a degree must imply something else. In our experience, it seems many of these companies equate holding a degree to being intelligent, hard-working, driven and successful – all qualities it would be fair to say most hiring managers are looking for in their applicants. However, it seems rather short-sighted and unfair to suggest everyone who didn’t go to university simply can’t possess these attributes. It’s also totally wrong, of course. Some of the world’s best business brains didn’t start or finish degrees – Mark Zuckerberg (Founder and CEO of Facebook), Charles Culpepper (created Coca-Cola), Bill Gates (co-founder of Microsoft), Richard Branson (owner of Virgin), Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple), Henry Ford (founder of Ford Motor Company), Walt Disney (founder of Walt Disney Company) and many more. (You’ll notice these are all men – but I think that’s a whole other blog topic!)

The UK’s preoccupation with higher education

Traditionally, going to university was a privilege of the wealthy. Recent governments have focused on encouraging university applications across all socio-economic backgrounds, and the opportunity for polytechnic colleges to apply to become universities in the early 1990s meant there were more institutions for potential students to choose between. Tony Blair’s 1999 pledge that half of all young people should go on to higher education has almost come to fruition. But why was/is there such a focus on higher education? It can be argued that the prestige of earning a degree is being diluted by the volume of graduates entering the job market, and the range of more abstract and non-academic courses available which lowers the bar for entry.

Many people argue that experience is far more valuable than a university education – being able to demonstrate an application of skills and a commitment to a profession or career path. Others argue that a degree provides something that experience simply can’t - and that graduates, by definition, represent the more capable and successful in our society. Spending three or more years in education can provide a great deal more than just an academic qualification; the extra maturity you will have on entering the workplace and the additional time and guidance you will have leveraged to make your decisions about the right work for you cannot be underestimated.

More opportunities for school leavers

There does seem to be a growing trend to advertise for ‘graduates or graduate calibre’, or to require a level of education or experience equal or similar to a degree, rather than requiring a definitive university education. Google, Apple, IBM and lots of other major companies have all recently dropped the requirement for a degree. All employers ought to recognise and accept that some people want to start their career straight after school or college, and as higher education gets more expensive and the previous kudos of a degree starts to wane, this may become more common.

Some employers market specific schemes and training programmes for school-leavers with high potential, like Barclays’ Early Careers Apprentice and Sponsored Degree Programmes and KPMG Careers. It seems that some companies are responding to the pressure to secure the best talent before their competitors by targeting and recruiting them before the usual milk round scramble.

Applying for a job that requires a degree when you don’t have one

We believe that employers ought to be flexible in their hiring practices to accommodate applications from people with different educational and professional backgrounds. If we have excellent candidates who don’t hold a degree, we will do our best to put them forward for the roles that suit their skills and experience, and will negotiate hard on their behalf with companies who are more rigid in requiring a graduate as standard.

Today’s tight labour market continues to be a promising landscape for job seekers, with economists predicting more opportunities for professionals without a degree. So don’t be put off by adverts which state a degree as a prerequisite – if you can clearly demonstrate your suitability for the role and prove you have the skills and qualities they are looking for, you are as attractive a prospect to them as someone with a university education.

Whether you have a degree or not, we can help you to find the right role. Please get in touch on 01932 355000 or at hello@amber-employment.co.uk so we can work through your local employment opportunities together.

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