To Degree or not to Degree! Bill Spindloe









To Degree or not to Degree!  Our regular contributor Bill Spindloe gets on his soap box this month to lament the reliance on qualifications versus ability.

The corporate world has grown to have a pre-occupation with employing those with degree level academic qualifications.  As a result those who have achieved these degrees have developed a career expectation that is neither warranted,  realistic nor sustainable.

The former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair quite often made the comment that education was a Human Right. I agree. That everyone should have the right to go to University, but that does not mean everyone should attend University.  Consequently the expectation from these future holders of the degree, is that they should be accepted into organizations and put on accelerated programs that propel them towards the dizzy heights of senior management.

I make no apologies for bursting the proverbial bubble of these future captains of commerce, but the possession of a piece of paper proclaiming that you have managed to attend University for 3 years and pass an exam in Media Studies or Mass Communication does not get you a key to the Executive Wash Room. It gets you the interview for the role for which you applied, and entitles you to nothing more.  The fact is that there are more degree students per square foot than ever before, and this means the competition is more fierce and there is no room for this feeling of entitlement.

My advice would be to stop taking courses called Media Studies and Mass Communication. This screams a lack of imagination and to many employers I know these might as well be degrees in knitting or puppetry quite frankly. Be original, do something that might actually be worthwhile or at least bring forth a discussion worthy in an interview.  These degrees represent the path of least resistance, and a very good reason why in the UK we have an entire generation of people who think that plumbers for some reason only speak Polish.

OK, so Tony Blair is an easy target for the blame here, as he is for a great many things, but the employers need to also stop using degrees as the only yard stick of acceptability.  Whatever happened to apprentice programs? These don’t just need to be for those who are looking at a ‘blue collar’ career. Some of the world’s most successful and enduring corporations have flourished because of the type of people they have been able to attract. If McDonalds had a policy of only employing graduates from the best Universities, there simply would be no McDonalds. I know of a number of people who have done very well in the McDonalds Corporation who barely left school with any kind of examination to their name. But because McDonald’s effectively operates using a process where each and every aspect of the business is broken down into its component parts, it helps people to master each of these skills and move up the chain.  In fact I would say the approach they use, combined with constant observation and feedback is a great use of the 70/20/10 methodology that we in Learning and Development speak about so much today. This sort of approach used to be applied in all kinds of industries, but seems to have fallen out of favor.

Oh, and just before I get off this particular soapbox, do not apply for a job with me, having taken a degree in Entrepreneurship. If you can’t see the irony in this you aren’t going to enjoy the letter explaining why you didn’t make the cut for the interview stage.