From education to employment

79% of young people overestimate the value of a degree #FutureLeaders

Will future leaders need degrees? It’s official: best learning is ‘on the job’

Worrying new research from AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians), the UK’s leading qualification and membership body for technical accountants, shows that students and school leavers remain unaware of the increasingly varied and highly paid career paths they can choose to follow without a degree.

AAT recently tested 2000 people of all ages across the UK on their knowledge of careers and organisations which don’t require a university degree. This was in a bid to raise awareness of the alternatives to higher education available to students, in particular apprenticeships, which can be a gateway to some of the highest paid jobs of the future.

According to the survey, 79% of young people (16-24 year olds) think you need a university degree to work in a management role in some of the world’s most prestigious organisations. This includes tech giants Google, Microsoft and IBM, as well as global accounting firms KPMG, J.P Morgan and PWC. In all examples, this is not the case. 

At the same time, when asked about which top tier jobs don’t require a degree, 8 in 10 young people (16-24 year olds) were not able to complete the quiz answering all questions correctly – over 5 in 10 wrongly think you need one to become a nuclear scientist (52%) and over 4 in 10 incorrectly believe it is the only way to become a solicitor (48%), an aerospace engineer (47%) or an accountant (43%). In fact apprenticeships are a valuable route into all of these top careers.

Additionally, 71% of 16-24 year olds incorrectly identified a number of industry leaders as having a university degree.  These include Evan Williams – co-founder and former CEO of Twitter (87%); Anna Wintour – editor in chief of Vogue Magazine (88%); Dragons’ Den investor Deborah Meaden (88%); co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates (74%) and founder of the Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson (82%).

This comes despite the majority of the public stating that on-the-job training is more important than a degree, amid uncertainty among Brits about whether a degree will pay off. According to the survey, people place more value on on-the-job-training (76%) and work experience or internships (56%) than a university degree (42%) when it comes to succeeding in their careers. And nearly 1 in 6 Brits said their degree didn’t adequately equip them for the world of work.

Recently, the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report cited that ‘by 2022 the skills required to perform most jobs will have shifted significantly’ which indicates the future of work will be increasingly about skills training.

Among the top five skills people of all ages think they need to land the high paying jobs of the future, communication (23%), leadership (24%), digital skills (23%) problem solving (23%) and work ethic (23%) came out on top.

The top tier careers 16-24 year olds wrongly think require a university degree (with annual earning potential) are:

  1. Nuclear scientist (52%) £65,000+
  2. Solicitor (48%%) £90,000+
  3. Aerospace engineer (47%) £60,000+
  4. Detective and criminal investigator (44%) £83,000+
  5. Accountant (43%) £90,000+
  6. Software/engineer developer (39%) £70,000+
  7. Cyber security analyst (34%) £70,000+
  8. Graphic designer (31%) £60,000+
  9. Air traffic controller (26%) £100,000+
  10. Journalist (23%) £40,000+

The industry leaders young Brits (16-24 year olds) incorrectly identified as having a university degree, are:

  1. Sir John Major (92%)
  2. Steve Rowe, CEO of Marks and Spencer (91%)
  3. Karren Brady, Baroness Brady, CBE (90%)
  4. Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue Magazine (88%)
  5. Deborah Meaden, Dragons’ Den investor (88%)
  6. Co-founder and former CEO of Twitter Evan Williams (87%)
  7. Sir Richard Branson (82%)
  8. Sir Alan Sugar (75%)
  9. Co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates (74%)
  10. Simon Cowell (70%)

Rob Alder, Head of Business Development at AAT, said:

“Increasingly top employers are looking beyond an applicant’s education to find out whether they have the skills to succeed in a role. This is why many organisations are championing new apprenticeship opportunities to help young people chart their own successful path beyond the traditional university degree. For instance, accountancy apprenticeships are up 12% year on year with some large employers increasing their apprenticeship intake.

“Apprenticeships can offer the best route into some of the most highly skilled jobs. Yet, the survey shows that awareness of these opportunities is still too low. We hope that by highlighting people’s misconceptions, we can encourage young people to consider more alternative education options to enable them to thrive in the future.”


Akash Ruparelia from Egham, 23

Akash, 23, says he felt lost after failing his first year of college but was given a second chance to succeed by LTSB (Leadership Through Sport and Business), who helped transform his life.

Akash, who was part of the first group of young leaders to join the programme in 2012, said: “I went to The Magna Carta School in Staines where I got good grades and then went onto college but after a few weeks I knew it wasn’t for me. I stuck at it but ended up failing my first year. I was at a really low point but then I started looking into apprenticeships and came across LTSB.

“As well as always being good with numbers, what really caught my interest was that I’d be working with Tottenham Hotspur Foundation as part of the programme. LTSB saw the potential in me and I was accepted onto their programme. I studied AAT qualifications at Level 3 and 4 with the College of Haringey Enfield and North East London (CONEL), while working at BayernLB. In addition, I did social action in the community with the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation.

“I didn’t know Premier League clubs had outreach programmes, it was very eye opening. I was coaching football in local schools and it was great to get an FA Level 1 coaching badge and help the local communities surrounding the club. It was important to learn new skills as part of the course, skills that are transferable into a business environment.

After completing his apprenticeship scheme, Akash worked for Royal Windsor Racecourse and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, before securing a role as a Financial Analyst for global firm, Johnson & Johnson, in Maidenhead in Berkshire. He has recently become the first Leadership Through Sport and Business apprentice to become a chartered accountant, having continued his studies.

Sally Fisher from Shrewsbury, 22

Sally always assumed she would go to university to read Mathematics which she is passionate about, however the stress of final year A-Levels, sizeable debt and the uncertainty of not obtaining a job at the end of a degree made her question whether university was for her. Therefore, when the opportunity presented itself, she jumped at the opportunity to start an accounting role at Whittingham Riddell LLP in Shrewsbury, which included improving her mathematical skills through an apprenticeship scheme. Despite the demands of learning on-the-job and studying for her AAT accounting qualifications, Sally soon realised that an apprenticeship suited her.

“I am a very practical learner and I learn best when I can relate what I am studying to real life situations. It is very rewarding when you’re able to apply what you’ve learned to a job role. The variation of the work completed daily is what keeps the job interesting. No two tasks are the same and all vary in difficulty. I’m very lucky – my role is active and I get a lot of client contact,” said Sally, who has now completed her AAT qualifications and is now studying ACCA qualifications, with the hope of one day becoming a chartered accountant. “I would like to build up a strong successful reputation alongside being chartered,” adds Sally. “In 10 years’ time, I hope to be part of a management team.”

*Research was carried out by Censuswide in March 2019. A nationally representative sample of 2,073 16+ year old adults across the UK were interviewed.

About AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians): The UK’s leading qualification and professional body for technical accountants and bookkeepers, and has around 130,000 members in over 100 countries. We offer a range of qualifications that are open to all regardless of previous education or age, such as the AAT Accounting Qualifications that provide a non-degree route into chartered accountancy, and the AAT Bookkeeping Qualifications that can support business growth through accurate and up-to-date financial records. Students encompass a wide range from school and college leavers, to older people hoping to change their career or learn the skills to run their own business.

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