Is a degree really essential for a top career?

Is a degree really essential for a top career?

9 August 2016


It is exam results day today for children across Scotland and the future of the younger generation hangs on the contents of that text message or envelope. But why do the youth of today feel so much pressure to attend university?

Today, as a graduate, you are around six times more likely to be awarded a first class degree than you were in 1986. Indeed 30 years ago, most students who started university could only dream of obtaining a first class degree and only 3 per cent were actually awarded them.

Whether this is due to grade inflation or simply students working harder is a subject to be debated.

So just how important is a top class degree for today's employers? What is more important, IQ or EQ?

There is no doubt academic excellence remains paramount in some jobs such as design engineers, academics and medics. However, for a number of professions, a degree isn’t enough any more and in many cases is deemed less critical than the ability to demonstrate a mix of skills.

The world of work is rapidly changing. Job roles, such as an app developer or a drone operator, are emerging that 10 years ago didn’t even exist and this is a trend that is forecast to continue and increase.

It is estimated that approximately 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will end up working in completely new job types that aren’t even on our radar yet.

This pace of change is only going to get faster thanks to rapid advances in the fields of technology.

With this in mind employers are having to put more emphasis on people who can demonstrate employable skills alongside academic excellence.

It is no longer enough to just be clever and it is becoming widely recognised that the ability to be adaptable and demonstrate high emotional intelligence is arguably more important than IQ.

Indeed there is a belief that some first class degree students tend to demonstrate an intellectual arrogance that is in direct contrast to what is needed in today’s working environment.

Today’s employers look for skills in leadership, teamwork, networking and communications.

Professions, such as the law, which have previously focused on employing graduates who have top quality degrees are now far more focused on hiring people who can build networks, demonstrate empathy with clients and have an ability to sell their services in what is becoming an increasingly competitive sector. But intellectual arrogance is more likely to work against, rather than for them.

There can often be good reasons why someone may not have attained a top quality degree – family problems, health issues or a lack of maturity or ability to deal with university life and living away from home.

They may however be highly skilled in other areas and have demonstrated this in extra-curricular interests.

Last year EY introduced a new “strengths-based” recruitment strategy, which removed academic qualifications from its entry criteria for 2016 graduates, undergraduates and school leavers.

It carried out research and concluded that screening candidates based on academic performance alone was too blunt an approach. Rather they created a process based on leadership, commerciality, networking and influence.

This approach supplemented their process as they recognised that intellectual ability is important but is just one consideration.

Graduates today need to work hard to be noticed. Interests out-with their studies, are paramount. Interesting work experience, charity initiatives and involvement in teams make a big difference in getting an interview.

This opinion column first appeared in The Herald on 9th August 2016.

Written By Hilary Roberts


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