For many successful entrepreneurs and professionals, a top-level university education has been instrumental in providing them with the skills, discipline and resilience required to become a success in the workplace. Despite this, recent research by UK-based internet marketing agency Verve Search has shown that around a quarter of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs dropped out of university or high school, and that only 20 per cent gained a masters degree.
This should not devalue the merits of pursuing a career pathway that includes university qualifications. However, these figures are a real indicator that the key to keeping talented individuals in education may lie in providing them with suitable alternatives, which help nurture key skills such as business and financial management. Without taking steps to build this knowledge and gain experience in these areas, making it to the top will become increasingly challenging.
The research showed that around half of the entrepreneurs asked in the study secured a bachelors degree, which highlights the fact that university has been beneficial for a large number of them. But equally, the high number of those who decided to drop out of their courses suggests that many are leaving education to pursue business opportunities on their own. However, it is important to note that educational pathways can still provide budding entrepreneurs and businesspeople with the relevant tuition, training and experience they need: the opportunity for success and social mobility is there if the right channels are pursued.
So what are the right channels? Business skills can be acquired in numerous ways. Some people have a natural flair and talent for business and some build it through a range of work experience opportunities. For these people and for many others looking to make a start in their career, studying affordable yet informative business qualifications to hone their skills and build their confidence can be key, whether they want to learn how to manage a business or want to strike out on their own. Such an approach enables ambitious young people to gain a strong educational grounding in their chosen discipline, even if the traditional university-based pathway is inaccessible due to financial or academic reasons.
At the same time, young people should approach their burgeoning careers with a sense of realism and perspective; these figures shouldn’t lead everyone to think that they can immediately become the next Mark Zuckerberg. Success comes in many forms, and shouldn’t be judged solely on how much money is in your bank account. Entrepreneurship takes hard work and dedication, and for many, a good way to get started is with a solid academic foundation at university. For others, it is important to highlight that other educational routes to success are there; for entrepreneurs and future entrepreneurs, it’s about being adaptable and willing to pursue these alternative avenues.
The value of higher education should never be diminished. However, in an increasingly competitive working world, the importance of acquiring business skills cannot be overstated. For young people hoping to make their mark on the future workplace, being proactive in building this business knowledge from an early age, often by being open to alternative educational approaches, can pay tremendous dividends.
Gareth Robinson is CEO of the Association of Business Executives (ABE)