What is Better – A University Degree or Experience?

This is an on-going debate puzzling both employers and those considering what to do when they leave school.  The answer is both – having just one or the other can really limit your employment chances.

What are the advantages for graduates entering the job market?

Put simply, graduates have a much higher employment rate than non-graduates, and the average wage starts and ends much higher(http://www.theguardian.com/education/2006/aug/04/highereducation.workandcareers) .  Many non-graduates may start their careers positively and successfully but quickly find that in most sectors, they hit a ‘career ceiling’ – where their wages and opportunities are severely limited by their lack of a university level qualification.  Of course, this is not the case for everyone but it obviously affects their ability to earn enough to afford a mortgage or build up a decent pension.  Graduate are also almost exclusively able to access company graduate training schemes and internships, regardless of their experience.

It is not just the employment opportunities – having any degree shows a high level of personal resilience.  Employers often place far more value on transferable skills and personal qualities gained through years of independent study (and often independent living) than on the knowledge base gained through a particular degree.  Graduates are resilient, resourceful and independent, they can work under pressure and most have broadened their horizons culturally and personally throughout this process.  The exception is vocational degrees where subject content is the determinant feature.

Do employers value work experience?

Yes.  In fact, the first point at which experience really counts is in a university application – more so than ever before, undergraduate applicants need to show a wealth of volunteering and work experience in addition to their A Level results – university has never been more competitive.  A survey by The Guardian of 500 employers also found that when hiring graduates, employers place much higher value on relevant work experience and degrees with a work placement than the class of degree or reputation of the university – it seems that the successful graduate now needs both.

For those without a degree, it really depends on the nature of your experience – every job is different, work experience is most valuable when it is transferable and shows a rapid progression in your skill set – staying in the same job at the same level for too long will not be viewed favorably.

It seems ironic that, whilst having a degree gives you the best chances in today’s’ job market, employers are continually reporting that many graduates are still not equipped with basic workplace skills – literacy, numeracy, administrative skills, problem-solving, teamwork, taking initiative, being confident to discuss ideas in meetings etc.  Such skills can only be gained through work experience.

For those who choose not to pursue higher education, the right training routes and progression opportunities become essential – job hunters need to look at the bigger picture of where their career could take them and whether they will eventually by limited by their qualifications, regardless of their experience.

Job Seekers

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