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How important is a degree for your career?
There is constant debate about whether experience or a university degree is more important in a job search. Some people argue that experience is more important than a degree; others say a degree provides something that experience can’t. Is one more valuable than the other?
We’ve asked a few of our recruitment experts to give us their views on the issue.
Jonathan Abell, Managing Director at Michael Page Engineering and Manufacturing, says that, having a degree has become increasingly important within the field of logistics. Logistics operations have become more complex over recent years and a university degree indicates an ability to problem solve, work through projects to completion and to set short, medium and long-term goals. However, there is currently a shortfall of talent within this sector and an increasing demand for good lower management candidates with two to three years’ experience. Logistics as a sector is growing rapidly, partly due to the growth in online trade and e-fulfilment, but as an industry, it has branding issues with regards to desirability and university students have been slow to pick up on it as a future career option.
Katie Self, Manager at Page Executive, says that, for most agency roles, having a degree is vital. The top performing agencies are full of Oxbridge and Red Brick University calibre candidates. Client services, analytics and strategy or planning positions require a degree as standard and the degrees tend be directly relevant to the role. This is even more important for PR. However, creative or technology positions (within an agency) mostly require practical experience and a strong portfolio.
Simon Nolan, Head of Consumer Practice at Page Executive, points out that, for a lot of sectors, a degree is a prerequisite to get your foot in the door of a large, blue-chip company. While it certainly does not guarantee success in any environment, it does create opportunities that you may not have had otherwise. That said, more recently, given the high costs of university, many blue-chips are now looking to set up their own ‘white collar’ apprenticeships. Once you are ‘in’ and performing then education becomes less important relative to the personal performance of the individual and the results they achieve.
According to Nicola Wensley, a Director at Page Executive, who manages executive appointments in fashion, retail experience is just as important as a degree for a career in fashion retail. For design based jobs, a degree from a prestigious design school like Central St Martins will certainly give a candidate the edge over someone without a qualification. Buying and merchandising roles usually go to experienced candidates who have a specialist buying and merchandising qualification under their belt as well. She says that ultimately, a degree and experience within the industry are equally important when applying for jobs within fashion retail.
Banking and finance
Tara Bagley, Director of the Global Banking & Asset Management division of Page Executive's Banking & Financial Services practice, says that, job adverts will often ask that applicants be graduates or of ‘graduate calibre’. Even at a more experienced level, employers often want to look at a candidate’s degree and grades to see what it may tell them about the person’s ability to win a place, commit to a period of learning, see it through and achieve good results.
However, she also says that employers shouldn’t be too prescriptive about whether applicants must have a degree. Some people want to start their career straight after school instead of going to university and as tertiary education gets more expensive, many school leavers might be put off the idea of accumulating debt. Some employers market specific schemes/training programs to cater for these people. This might entail sponsoring them to do a part-time degree while working. Examples of schemes like this include Barclays Early Careers Apprentice and Sponsored Degree Programmes and KPMG Careers. Another option some employers are going for is enrolling employees in alternate training programmes. This reflects the current pressure on employers to secure talent before competitors do and the way to win that war is by getting people earlier than at the milk round bun-fight.
Spending three or more years in education may be expensive and is not necessarily the key to a promising career but it can provide a great deal more than just an academic qualification; the overall experience is also very valuable. The extra maturity you will have on entering the workplace after three more years of study is a positive factor when starting a career. Being a student also means three more years to figure out what you want to do with your career.