The debate over the value of a degree vs work experience is as old as the education system itself. Does a degree or work experience make it easier to get a job, or can either determine a higher salary? Moreover, once you have your foot in the door, which one carries a greater likelihood of remaining in employment throughout your career?
Which is More Important; Education or Experience?
The answer is both. To a certain extent, a high level of education is worthless without any work experience. A master’s degree only proves that you can perform well in a classroom environment. An employer’s primary concern is how well you might function as part of their team.
At the same time, having a degree proves that your knowledge is of a certain level in a specific field. Someone with many years of work experience may be able to apply the skills they have commercially. However, they may not have the same array of skills and knowledge.
For many students, deciding between obtaining a degree or work experience through on-the-job training is difficult. Going to university requires a substantial financial outlay and the prospect of years of repaying debt. In an ideal world, getting paid while you learn would be fantastic, but will the financial reward be as great in the long run?
Statistics from the Department of Education reveal that graduates earn on average £10,000 more than people without a degree. Their statistics also show unemployment rates among graduates are much lower, with approximately 87% of university graduates in employment vs 71% without a degree.
On the other hand, the Guardian reports that 45% of university graduates will never earn enough to repay their student loans. With this in mind, could it be worth considering another route to your ideal career, such as an apprenticeship?
How Many Years of Experience are Equivalent to a Degree?
According to Indeed, a bachelor’s degree equals around four to eight years of work experience, while a master’s degree adds up to about ten years. However, one might argue that the length of time someone has worked in a position is irrelevant. What’s important is whether the skills an individual acquires throughout their work history are the same as those of a graduate.
So, for example, someone working in a marketing agency might gain a great deal of exposure to many different projects and some people management experience. Therefore, that person might have the equivalent skills of a marketing degree in only a few years.
On the other hand, someone working in public services marketing might take much longer to build the same skillset. That’s not to belittle the job that public services marketers do. On the contrary, they might gain a higher level of expertise, but their skillset may not be as broad.
Is it Discriminatory for an Employer to ask for a Degree?
The Equality Act 2010 says that it is unlawful to discriminate on several protected characteristics, but the level of education is not one of them. However, while it’s not illegal for an employer to state that a degree is an essential requirement for a job, they may be guilty of indirect discrimination in certain circumstances.
For example, let’s say a job advert states that a degree is an essential requirement for an entry-level tech support role. In this case, an employer could indirectly discriminate against people under 21. As this is an entry-level role, one might argue that there is no legitimate reason for applicants to have a degree.
At the same time, it could be perfectly reasonable for an employer to expect applicants for a software developer vacancy to have a degree. This is because software development is a job that requires niche skills at a high level.
Is it Possible to Get a High-Paying Job Without a Degree?
Despite the above, getting a high-paying job is still possible without a degree. This is particularly true in technology, where many individuals are self-taught, and their passion for their job is extremely valuable to employers. Moreover, the rise of bootcamps and online learning make it possible to gain in-demand technical skills for specific career paths.
A Few Final Thoughts on Whether a Degree or Work Experience Makes You More Employable
The most attractive candidates to potential employers are those who have a college degree with some work experience via a work placement or internship. However, in the real world, where tech skills are scarce, employers will often consider applicants with the right attitude and skills.
If you have a passion for technology and are keen to break into the sector, it’s worth chatting with a specialist IT recruitment consultant. It is possible to forge a career in IT with work experience and the right transferable skills. If this is your aim, why not have a chat with one of our team?