The diminishing value of obtaining a degree?

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Debate continues to open up over the value of degrees as a stepping stone to a career and this debate will have a significant impact on HR Managers and their recruitment policies writes Clare Morley, Director of Education & Training at the Association of Accounting Technicians.
Claire writes to suggest that the economic downturn has squeezed the number of graduate positions, leaving increasing numbers of university leavers unemployed and saddled with heightened expectations, increased debt and reduced opportunities. To add to their woes, business leaders such as Sir Terry Leahy and David Frost have questioned graduates’ work-readiness.
As large numbers of young people are discovering, having a degree does not necessarily unlock the door to a “graduate” career. The Association of Accounting Technicians’ recent research shows that 55% of this summer’s university leavers will face unemployment or go into low-skilled jobs that they could just as easily have got straight out of school. This high level of unemployment and “under-employment” is caused by a combination of a lack of available jobs and a lack of suitability for the jobs that are available.
For a long time, employers in white-collar careers – for example media, IT, law, finance – have believed that a university degree is the first part of the application process for new recruits. However, it is increasingly hard to identify talent and increasingly difficult for employers to work out the value of a particular degree to their organisation.

There has been a generational shift in these white-collar professions – whereas 20 years ago a journalist could enter the media through a hands-on apprenticeship, now degrees are often considered a prerequisite. But HR managers need to question whether or not this approach is bringing diversity, talent and energy into the organisation. Just as students are starting to question the return on investment on degrees, so businesses must question whether or not they can justify investing so much in graduate schemes when a great many talented potential employees will soon fall outside the graduate category. We should be working towards a system of education and training that focuses on the quality of the skills and the work-readiness of the candidate, not the path chosen to achieve it.
It is this quest for quality that is driving businesses towards apprenticeships. Although apprenticeships are traditionally viewed as the path to a blue-collar career, the Government has pledged the creation of 400,000 per year during 2014 and 2015, with backing for a greater number of white-collar apprenticeships.
The accountancy sector has been at the forefront of this approach, with finance departments in many public and private sector organisations offering apprenticeships. This route attracts some of the brightest school-leavers, providing businesses with a skills stream for the long term. Businesses have found that apprenticeship schemes are frequently more cost-effective than graduate programmes, reducing salary overheads as well as recruitment and retention costs.
A good example of this approach in action is the finance division of Procter & Gamble (P&G). In cutting its graduate scheme altogether, P&G focused instead on putting school-leavers though high-quality vocational training. The apprentices appreciate both the investment that has been made in them and the opportunity that they have been given, making them among the most motivated employees around.
By opening up alternative routes into professions, we will see the talent pool deepen. It also offers the next generation an alternative to university and associated debt, as a way into careers they crave.
By introducing an element of competition, institutions awarding qualifications will have to work harder, showing that there is a real return on investment from taking their courses. This is as equally true of vocational as it is of academic courses – bad quality qualifications need to be rooted out, as they waste young peoples’ talent and money while muddying the waters for employers.
By developing routes into white-collar careers, focusing on the quality of the skills rather than the route through which it was attained, savvy professions and employers can develop alternative recruitment and training paths. By doing this, they can benefit from a more blended approach that brings through the best people from both academic and vocational routes. In the long term, this is the only logical approach for white-collar careers to develop and nurture high-quality talent

1 Comment

  1. Ayodele

    I wholeheartedly soppurt the proposition . The key as I see it is at the outset to elevate the desirability and prestige of a formalised vocational path,with the promise of a more secure and fulfilling future. The marketing or PR makeover would need to be far more joined up and agressive to be seen as a rival for the now essential degree in just about anything , mentality.For this to become a reality the achievement of a Universal Apprenticeship would need to sweep away the current miriad of vocational training qualifications to become recognised by employers and particpants alike as the primary route to training and a right of passage to a bright future. For the Universal Apprenticeship to become the desired route for young people entering the workplace will need a superhuman effort. It will also need to be Government/Industry driven. The alternative is now too many degree students going nowhere because of inferior degrees and no workplace experience and the rest left to seek what?Looking back can be both dangerous and helpful but it should teach us that there is an inescapable and irrevocable bond and essential. continuity between the education phase and working life is and ultimately the success of UK Ltd.On the question of my subject marketing how can we give an allure to what is wrongly in my view called vocational training. This differentiates it from other training and downgrades it in the process. It currently looks second class to a degree course.As an example of upgrading the image of apprenticeship, my city, Coventry, offered indentured apprentices, who will have been formally trained by city firms and Colleges/Universities, the Freedom of the City in a formal ceremony in the Council Chamber.There is an exciting and essential task ahead.I see this as a vital discussion and action proposal going forward and compliment the intiative.Tony Sproul.

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