Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Tertiary Education. Yes? No?

Well of course the answer to that question is yes. Mostly. Sometimes. Depends....

 
It's always good to be learning, but what I'm talking about today is formal qualifications. You know, the ones that take years of your life to complete and many thousands of dollars; a degree or Masters or MBA, for example.

I thought this was a topic worth exploring because over the years I have interviewed hundreds of people for jobs and worked with lots of Managers. Reviewing a candidate's resume and their stated qualifications is always interesting, as is helping Managers with their career aspirations and development. Tertiary education usually factors in at some point.


One of my favourite CEO's, who I worked for early in my career, lets call him Wayne, was adamant that every employee we hire should have an undergraduate degree. He didn't care what the degree was in, as long as they had completed one.  "You want our Receptionist to have a degree? Our Customer Service employees? Really?" I thought he was mad. Of course he wasn't. I was just naive and still learning. His reasoning was sound and not about academic snobbery, as you might think.

1. He wanted people in his organisation who had potential beyond the role we were recruiting for. Working in a niche industry, he understood that it is easier to develop internal people for future opportunities than to find people on the open market. And it was much easier to recruit people then! People who were well educated may stand a better chance of developing themselves and the business in the future.

2. He wanted people who could demonstrate their commitment to something, such as a 3 year degree, and see it through to the end. What organisation wouldn't want employees who had the tenacity and determination to see something through to its completion? Hellooo?

3. He felt that going through the process of completing tertiary study helped people to think about an issue or problem holistically and from a systems perspective while having the skills to gather information widely.  Great skills to have in business and in life, don't you think?


As I have gained business experience, I can add to Wayne's list:

4. Studying at a Tertiary level improves your reading, comprehension, and writing skills. Most tertiary study requires lengthy assignments and essays. The more study you do, the better you get at reading large swathes of content, making sense of it and expressing yourself in a written form. There are many, many careers where this is incredibly important. 

5. Further education helps you understand that "the more you learn, the less you know". Yes I am blonde, but this one makes sense. Education opens your eyes to so much stuff you wouldn't learn just by going to work each day. And it's different learning. Of course it tends to be more theoretical but this is based (usually) on solid research, which can only enhance your work if you are able to apply it in a practical way. Every time I learn something new I'm reminded of how much I don't know and this increases my curiosity to learn more. Organisations love curious employees who want to make a difference.

So here is my take on whether you should complete tertiary study or not:
  • If you want to. Yep, lets keep it simple people.
  • If the profession you want to work in demands it. Derr. Obviously if you want to be an Accountant or Doctor or Teacher you are not going to get too far without the requisite bit of paper. 
  • If you will be competing against others in your chosen career who will have qualifications. Many times I have advertised a role and received a large number of applicants. If I specified in the ad you need to have tertiary qualifications and you don't, this is the first and easiest cull. You won't get a look in. Harsh but that's life. (and as an aside, do not put your photo in a resume. It just gives recruiters and HR departments something to laugh at). There are many careers you can be successful in just through hard work and gaining experience over many years, however if you are competing on the open market for a new opportunity your resume may end up on the floor if you don't have some qualifications to match.
  • Qualifications alone are not enough. If you finished your high school education and then went straight on to university and finished a degree, then went straight on to post graduate study, such as a Masters and didn't get any relevant work experience to go with your education, you have what I call "empty" qualifications. Qualifications are great but if you haven't had the opportunity to apply what you have learnt in the big bad world, they are pretty meaningless. Of course I'm making generalisations but you get the picture. A resume with lots of great qualifications and no work experience can be similar to having lots of work experience and no qualifications (depending on your chosen career of course).
My advice is to get some balance in your work and education (as in life). Do a little study and then get some work experience. Maybe you have a solid career and need some formal study to recognise and build on all the great work you have done so far? Maybe you are looking for a career change so study something that matches your future aspirations.

Or if you are happy where you are and the thought of cracking the books and writing assignments into the wee hours of the night is not for you, fine. But understand how this will impact your career.

Inspire me


"That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you've understood all your life, but in a new way." 

 Doris Lessing

Develop me


Michael Fox one of the Co-founders of Shoes of Prey, mmmmm....shoes...writes a blog about his experiences in a start-up business and has written two posts here and here about whether studying an MBA is relevant to being an entrepreneur and whether he should complete it.

Just for me


Those of us who have studied and those of you contemplating getting some Tertiary qualifications know you need to have goals, whether career or personal....This video by Daniel Goldstein talks about commitment devices and self discipline (you need lots of commitment to study at a Tertiary level!). He uses "behavioural time machines" to help people see their future. In this video he uses retirement as an example, however the concept translates to your career.



What does your future self look like? How would some further education change or enhance your future self? I'd love to hear!

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