Are we obsessed with Education?

by Admin 21. March 2014 11:04


I’m at one of those places in life we occasionally find ourselves where things change. My daughter will be going to University in September and my son is only a few years behind. I recall when I was at that stage and try to equate how things were in my day with how they are now. Possibly the biggest difference is that today there is a general expectation that young people will leave school and go off to university; where as thirty years ago it was somewhat less common. Student numbers as a percentage of population, at least in the UK has been increasing steadily, with only a minor blip due to changes in funding for students.

My own experience was that I couldn’t wait to leave school but University turned out not to be what I was looking for. If perhaps I had lead a sheltered home life then the newfound freedom of university life might have provided everything I needed but instead I found it to be somewhat inadequate. I felt frustrated that I was still surrounded by immature yet strangely opinionated young people whilst being in an academic environment which not only didn’t stretch me but which seemed somewhat divorced from the real world I longed to be part of. Admittedly I think many universities have worked hard to make themselves more relevant but by their very nature they are apart and separate from real life and always will be; a sheltered environment for the harsh realities of having to make a living and build a life and career.

Yet here I stand, about to send my children out into that self same world. Naturally my children believe that I have no advice to offer them about this or any other part of their lives. So I stand back and allow them to make their choices and take those last big steps to independence that we all must do; but I can’t help wondering if, particularly with the added burden of student debts, it is truly the best decision?

Part of what makes it difficult to answer this question is the attitude of most businesses today. Every job opening requires as a minimum a first degree and naturally HR will sort through the candidates removing firstly those with thirds and 2-2’s to ensure only the best candidates actually arrive to be interviewed. As a hiring manager nothing used to frustrate me more than this attitude that only graduates could do the jobs I had open. As a manager in organisations great and small I tried to look for that spark in a prospective hire; that different sort of intelligence to merely being very well educated. Certainly I wanted someone who could learn quickly as time to value is always important, but I wanted someone who was independent of thought; someone who would, and I hate myself for using such term, think out of the box!

Many of the best people I have worked with over the years have never been to university or have come away with poor qualifications. Increasingly it is hard to interview such people as in the current tight job market they never get through that first resume sift before the hiring manager ever gets to see them. Education comes in many forms and does not always have to be as formal as a university degree course.  People learn in different ways and often the most disruptive in formal education environments are the ones who shine in the real world because they are inquisitive, challenging and eager to learn. How do we hire these people earlier in their careers rather than waiting for them to be so experienced elsewhere that we look beyond what they did at school and university? I think that HR hiring teams (who incidentally are normally full of fairly new graduates) need to start thinking more broadly and not assume that a university graduate fits every single role. Speak to your hiring managers and understand what else they want from their new employees.

Given that universities, by their very nature are separate and divorced from the real world of business, I find myself wondering if the old fashioned approach of apprenticeships might not have a place in today’s modern world? I know that many organisations still operate such schemes but these tend to be more in the world of manufacturing and I suspect because this is where Universities tend to not equip graduates with the right set of skills. I do think that the same approach run by the large organisations say in financial services could benefit from looking more closely at such schemes. This does however require their senior HR people to not only think out of that box, but to put aside some of their own prejudices about what University life gives you.

Lets not be obsessed with formal education.

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Comments (2) -

3/23/2014 11:58:23 AM #

Did you see the recent article in the NYT about Google's hiring process? Not being so obsessed with educational grades...

Years ago I made the best hire I'd ever done. Took ten minutes in the interview for me to realise here was a very bright guy who could get anything done. He was ex-army. Left school at 16.


Steve Gailey
Steve Gailey
3/24/2014 9:04:58 PM #

Yes, I've been in the same position a few times myself. It does make me wonder how many more times I might have been if not for HR? And yes, for many the Army is a better grounding than any university...


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