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Experience vs degree: What's more important in the jobs market?

Paystream News

Kerry Hull

Friday 2nd Oct, 2015

Traditionally, limited company contractors have made a living from their niche expertise, which often includes skills that have been learnt on the job or through vocational training courses rather than via academic qualifications.

In some industries, such as the engineering sector or accounting, it may be more necessary for contractors to hold a degree, but do clients really value these more than other skills?

With the seemingly never-ending national skills shortage continuing to blight the UK jobs market, firms may be more willing to take on workers with fewer academic qualifications, meaning there could be an increase in opportunities for limited company and umbrella company contractors so that businesses can gain short-term access to the skills they require.

Here, we take a look at what actually is more important in the jobs market - experience or a degree.

Are academic qualifications always necessary?

Despite its calibre as a global investment firm, EY has recently announced that it will no longer require all of its recruits to hold specific academic qualifications. Instead, the business is more interested in how job candidates can add value to the company through skills and expertise they have gained outside of the classroom.

EY made the move to abolish this requirement from its recruitment process after conducting research on more than 400 interviewees and finding that success in higher education did not affect an individual's ability to achieve professional qualifications and skills in the future.

Maggie Stilwell, managing partner for talent at EY, explained: "Transforming our recruitment process will open up opportunities for talented individuals regardless of their background and provide greater access to the profession.

"Academic qualifications will still be taken into account and indeed remain an important consideration when assessing candidates as a whole, but will no longer act as a barrier to getting a foot in the door."

This suggests that skills such as self-management and the ability to use initiative are valued higher than academic qualifications by firms - a view held by many businesses throughout the UK.

The importance of non-academic skills

Research carried out last year by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) discovered that businesses are increasingly looking for a good attitude towards work and strong life skills from potential new recruits, often favouring these over the level of their academic qualifications.

It found that almost two-thirds (61 per cent) are concerned whether candidates will cope with managing their workloads, 33 per cent believe many have a bad attitude towards work and 85 per cent stated they were not satisfied with the basic literacy and numeracy skills of applicants.

This indicates that while a candidate may hold a degree, they many not necessarily be able to manage their own workload or be willing or even able to complete ad hoc tasks.

However, this is something that has to come naturally to contractors, as for them, each day at work can be drastically different to the one before, suggesting such workers may be able to provide greater value to these concerned business.

John Cridland, director-general of the CBI, commented: "Businesses feel very strongly that the education system must better prepare young people for life outside the school gates or risk wasting their talents.

"The journey from school towards the world of work can be daunting, so we must support schools and teachers to help develop the skills, character and attitudes students need to progress in life.

"We need young people who are rigorous, rounded and grounded, and business stands ready to play its part."

Gaining experience while contracting

The CBI's research found that the nature of some recruitment processes means that candidates don't always need to know everything about their own job, let alone others they may be asked to assist with. In fact, 56 per cent of school leavers and 30 per cent of graduates leave education with a substandard level of knowledge of their chosen career.

Due to the nature of contracting, temporary workers have to be an expert in time management, work planning, completing paperwork and working off their own initiative - that's on top of knowing everything about the field that their profession falls into, as it's likely they'll be asked to deal with additional tasks as well as the main one they have been contracted to complete. These are just some of the reasons why businesses are turning to contractors over those finding work via a more academic route.

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