There are more than 1.7 million students on Undergraduate University courses in the UK. And while most graduates are in some form of employment within 6 months of their graduation, simply having a Degree by no means guarantees the job you've been dreaming of since you first set your sights on Further and then Higher Education.
With some of the most in demand skills in the workplace being digital led, do academic qualifications matter in the businesses making digital centric hires? We asked employers for their views:
Kevin Jones – CEO, Shopblocks
Academic qualifications aren’t the most important thing in our new hires. We’ve actually hired Apprentices in the past and trained a lot of employees who’ve just left school or college.
We get a high volume of applications, particularly for entry level roles and the thing I look for most is passion and a genuine enthusiasm for what we do. Evidence of having done something related to this before, even if it’s just building their own side project, is arguably more important than academic background as well.
Many roles, particularly in software development, require natural problem solvers, naturally intelligent people with a flair for logic. A relevant degree can demonstrate this potential in a prospective hire, but is by no means absolutely necessary. So for me, I look at academic background but it’s not the most important consideration.
Daniel Austin – Head of Ecommerce, Doctor 4 U
It varies across our business. For roles in the pharmacy or for Doctor positions of course, there are certain qualifications people simply have to have. So we have that one side of the business where much of whether someone can work here is determined largely by the qualifications held.
However, on the side of the business I work in which is running the website and the digital marketing, it's not a critical factor. There are more practical skills we're interested in at the first port of call like coding skills for those on web development (whether those were skills learns through a Further/Higher Education course or through hands on self teaching is irrelevant in many ways). For copywriters, we're interested in how well they. can research and write about a complex topic and again, it doesn't really matter to me whether that was something learnt at University or by creating their own website in their bedroom growing up.
I think e-commerce and digital marketing require very practical skills that it is not absolutely necessary to have been to University to acquire.
Stacey MacNaught – Director, MacNaught Digital
It just so happens that most of the 7 people in my small consultancy have degrees. It’s by sheer coincidence rather than design as no role we’ve advertised has stipulated this as a requirement.
I think that academic qualifications demonstrate a commitment to learning and developing and also a knack for it. This really does help when entering the digital marketing world, which is the one I recruit into.
But the most important thing is a genuine love of digital, understanding of how people use technology to find products and services and an insatiable thirst for more knowledge in the area too. You can’t teach that anywhere, I don’t think.
Can Colleges and Universities do More?
This small sample of people making hires in digital roles suggests that while a Degree is no bad thing, there are more important skills and traits that employers are concerned.
So could universities and colleges do more to prepare students for entering these sorts of positions?
It’s a challenge for colleges and universities. Fields like digital marketing develop and evolve at such speed that no sooner is a course written, approved and rolled out, significant portions of its material may need updating. Many institutions already seek external resource to come in and supplement academic teaching staff to overcome this challenge.
What appears clear is that, alongside any formal qualification, a practical understanding of subject matter is critical. So arguably the courses that offer the most hands on and real world experiences are those likeliest to equip their students with the traits employers are looking for.