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The debate: University degree versus experience

Does having a University degree guarantee you employment? Not these days. According to Graduate Careers Australia, last year within four months of graduating, 23.8 percent of graduates surveyed were still seeking full-time employment, 15.1 percent had found part-time employment of some kind, while the remaining 8.6 percent were without any work. Of the interns I interview each week, many are desperate for paid work and having to put up with more ‘fill in’ style jobs rather than pursuing the real careers they want.

Our TaurusFastTrack graduate training program vocationally trains university leavers. I aim to send candidates out into the world with a better prospect of getting the job they aim for and it also helps me identify individuals as our own vacancies come up.

Today, it would seem a university degree is more of a given. A minimum requirement and a tick in the box when one is piling through the reams of resumes that hit our desks each month. In today’s highly competitive work force however, education is not necessarily the be all and end all in landing a job. Having been in the marketing industry globally for 25 years and running my company, Taurus Marketing for 16 years, I’ve seen some educated idiots. Those who are educated out of practical minds. But that doesn’t mean I don’t value a degree. As a mother of three, two of whom are teenagers, I would strongly recommend they go to university – at least as a leveling experience.

The experience of university can be maturing, a letting off of steam, a turning point, a first level introduction into a series of subjects or a single topic that sparks your interest. For many of course, it is a step on a ladder of long-term education in reaching that ultimate professional goal.

I chose not to go to University in the UK. I applied and was accepted, but a highly sought after two-year Marks and Spencer management training course on $8,000 pounds a year salary was more practical when I left school. Did I suffer by not going to university? No. Would I in today’s society? I think so.

I was lucky to learn from the ‘university of life’, good mentors, some not so good managers, and my own fair share of mistakes. I have attended a wide range of vocational courses in my profession and learnt on the job, in the fast lane, working to the highest standards of some really top class practitioners. Easy? No. But practical? Yes.

These days, in the same circumstances, with no tertiary qualifications, would I even have been given the chance?  I don’t think so.

Welcome to today’s world

Entering the corporate world for the first time is daunting. Different rules, new pressures, faster delivery of outcomes. Not everything is instinctive – from making a phone call, to greeting people, to how you dress, or write a professional email. Practical work experience enables students to apply their education to ‘real world’ scenarios, deal with real situations and understand the pressure of real and aggressive deadlines that cost more than a couple of grade points if not met. Internship programs have the additional benefit of showing students where their interests really lie. Reality is often different from the promise and the mystique.

Some universities now make internships a compulsory, practical component of their degrees and I can see why. Our internship program mentors students and postgraduates. I don’t undervalue the importance of this experience for them and it is my passion. I take it very seriously. Their time in my office can shape their views on the industry and give them training and life lessons they will keep with them for the rest of their careers.

Skills broader than your major

However, not under any circumstances would I diminish the value of a university degree. The experience gained at university provides a platform of skills that can be expanded when graduates enter the workforce. As an employer, I am looking for a certain type of person and a certain set of skills to become a part of my team. I know that a university graduate possesses at least a minimum standard of knowledge and discipline. Some courses are better than others.

Stand out from the crowd

But then what sets you apart from other applicants? Because more and more people are attending university as the norm, it means large numbers of similarly qualified people are searching for the same job, with the same qualifications. Approaching me as an employer, if you have shown initiative to gain a degree coupled with experience working in my field then you are a greater asset to me than someone with limited theoretical understanding.

The influx of resumes I receive every week astounds me. I am constantly looking for something to differentiate an applicant from the range of similar university degrees. The fact remains it is an ever increasingly competitive world out there.

Benefits of initiating a graduate program

Managing an effective internship program does take time and effort. As an employer, one needs to take responsibility to be in charge of the intern’s learning and improvement monitored. Equally, you want an intern who is passionate about learning and your business. I suggest asking applicants to come to their interview having made an extra effort to stand out.

From my own experience, I have found graduates eager to learn and be involved as much as possible. I personally love Gen Y, Z and beyond! In today’s employment world, employers are looking for personal values, cultural fit and passion, commitment and workplace experience plus a degree. I encourage all to gain work experience in the field they love and a call out to business owners: be prepared to give someone a considered break.

–Sharon Williams is founder and CEO of Taurus Marketing.

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Sharon Williams

Sharon Williams

Sharon is a pioneer in the Australian marketing industry and is the CEO of one of Australia’s highest profile integrated, B2B marketing, PR and creative agencies; Taurus Marketing. Sharon is a highly experienced International public speaker and trainer and sits on a number of prestigious boards. Sharon’s ‘no bull’ approach will be reflected in her blog, with frank commentary on a variety of topics.

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