Full disclosure, I don’t have a degree. When I left school, I thought I had an idea of what I wanted to do but I wasn’t sure. To help me figure out what I wanted to do before committing to a degree, I became a fan of doing shorter taster courses. And then the lure of travel happened.
I moved to the UK when I was 21 and was lucky enough to pick up a role that gave me the opportunity to learn as I progressed through the organisation I worked for. It’s a theme that has continued throughout my career – lifelong learning. Whether it has been on the job, via short courses, subscriptions to professional groups/magazines or attending meet ups, and let’s not forget about all the information at your fingertips just by googling, I think it is important to stay up with technology – more than it ever has been. Learning as you go also means learning from your mistakes and not hiding from them. It helps to have a supportive employer/team that helps you along the way! When learning on the job, I think it’s important to take the initiative to figure out a problem but not to be afraid to ask for help if you don’t know something.
Even though I don’t think you need a degree in your career, it can of course help, depending on your career path. For example, nobody can really ‘wing it’ when it comes to being a doctor! However, there are plenty of careers that don’t require a degree.
For a long time, a degree has been a prerequisite of many companies – to get your foot in the door, let alone have any chance of being hired. Any degree would do– it didn’t have to be relevant to the job that you were applying for. For those just entering the workforce, it can be the only thing to show your applicability for the role when implicitly you have not had any experience.
Degrees have also been used as a lazy way to screen out applicants in the recruitment process. This has cost many good applicants the chance of even making a positive impression at the initial interview stage. This is what I experienced when I first moved to Australia in 2009. Every job I was applying for needed me to have a specific degree. But in my eyes, by that stage in my career, I had 13 years of international experience in my field, which I thought was more important than a degree.
Fast forward to today and employers are increasingy looking past formal qualifications and valuing work and life experience and historical achievements in the interview. There is an increasing trend for some companies in the recruitment phase to administer psychometric tests to ‘unpack’ the applicant and assess cultural fit. For many employers, capability, competence and cultural fit are considered well above qualifications in the decision making process.
Moreover the vocationally focused short course format is increasingly valued. Universities and other higher education providers are recognising this and are expanding their vocational training options where you don’t need to spend years studying. An example is General Assembly and Academy XI whose curriculums focus on immersive training on real, live projects which run over 12 weeks. With the parallel focus on social media at work, candidates can promote themselves online and use their course activity to be found by future employers. This provides a much more fluid and dynamic way to build skills in alignment with one’s career. The third factor creating momentum is the rise of flexible working and the gig economy. Professionals now can move around and adjust their training almost in real time to match the requirements of the employer.
A recent news.com.au article showed that learning a trade could be better for employability, education cost and earning potential than some university degrees. Why? University fees can be quite high and often leave graduates with debt before they have even started a job whereas an apprenticeship is paid by the employee and they can earn while they are learning.
Once you have a degree, the learning in life doesn’t stop. Yes, it can help you get in front of people for a job opportunity, but at the end of the day, you still need to prove that you can do the job and that you are the right fit for them or they are the right fit for you – and you don’t need the degree for that.