As the Education vs Experience debate continues, there is still so much for businesses to consider when it comes to talent acquisition. Today’s candidate-driven market means that companies are forced to reevaluate their recruitment models and shift their perspectives of what makes an ideal candidate, entirely. Hiring top talent is more competitive than ever, but do organisations really know what is more important to them? Education or experience?
Recent years have seen the degree gap rise significantly. The discrepancy between the demand for a higher education degree in job specs and the number of employees who hold a degree currently in that role is becoming increasingly more common. As businesses favour experience over education, we explore the reasons why more experience doesn’t always make for better employees.
What is the value of education?
Learning is a lifelong endeavour. Whether it’s a college diploma or a bachelor’s degree, education gives us the opportunity to grow and develop, both personally and in a professional aspect. It shows us the importance of hard work and influences our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.
With an average student debt of over £45,000 in the UK and $37,500 in the US, it’s easy to see why employers and candidates alike are questioning the value of a bachelor’s degree, particularly post-pandemic. So, why is it important to have higher education if the job’s roles and responsibilities are the same regardless of the accolades the candidate holds? Obtaining a higher education degree can provide skills that are transferable to the workplace and require very little training, and although experience might make the candidate a better match for the job, they may lack the skills needed to advance in the future.
In 2020, graduates and postgraduates in the UK had higher employment rates than non-graduates. Government statistics show that 66% of graduates and 78.4% of postgraduates were working in highly skilled employment during 2020, compared to 24.5% of non-graduates. The Office for Students has also revealed that there has been an increase in the number of people applying for postgraduate degrees, which is reflective of the current candidate-driven market.
A highly skilled workforce is crucial to the success of any business, especially during periods of uncertainty like the recent global pandemic, as they have both the expertise and skills required to deliver results and adapt to face new challenges head-on.
What is the value of experience?
The world faces change and uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left many businesses reeling at the challenges it has presented. Investing in experience has quickly become the popular choice for businesses across the globe. A study by Harvard Business School found that 37% of employers consider experience to be more important than educational qualifications when acquiring new talent, and 44% of large organisations are likely to overlook the lack of degree if the candidates have the right experience.
In recent years, many leading global companies, such as Apple, Google, IBM, and Tesla, have shifted their focus from degrees to the value of work experience. The importance of degrees has lessened for many industries, the tech industry in particular, due to the mismatch between the skills learned in higher education and the on-the-job skills that businesses require. Apple revealed that almost half of its US employees do not have bachelor's degrees because they do not teach the core skills, namely coding, that are crucial for the role.
Although knowledge is just as important as experience, the fundamental skills acquired through years of experience in the industry can prove to be advantageous. There are many skills that can only be learned through on-the-job experience, such as industry knowledge, leadership and project management, for example. In some cases, it’s important to determine the candidate’s level of experience, particularly when hiring senior management, as this gives an indication as to how likely they are to succeed in the role.
Do years of experience create better employees?
Experience is often the first thing that hiring managers look for when screening candidates. However, it does not indicate whether the employee will successfully integrate into the team and how likely they are to stay at the company. A study conducted by Florida State University in 2019 found that there is no significant correlation between an employee’s experience and their performance in their new role.
The evidence suggests that the idea that candidates with more experience will perform better and go on to be long-tenured employees is unfounded. So, why do 82% of job listings require experience? Metrics such as the number of previous roles held, tenure at previous employers and the total number of years worked are simply an indication of how much experience a candidate has and not the quality of the experience. The more important takeaway should be - has the candidate learned from previous experiences?
Organisations need to consider both sides of the equation and look at how their experience has supplemented their education, and vice versa. During the interview process, it’s vital that employers evaluate how candidates have dealt with situations in the past with this in mind. However, hiring managers should be mindful that talented applicants are often screened out due to their lack of experience. More attention should be paid to the candidate’s knowledge, skills and personality traits, instead of using the higher education vs work experience argument as a proxy.
Of course, there are scenarios in which experience matters as this can sometimes predict future performance in similar situations. It’s easy to understand why many businesses favour experience - it’s easier to assess compared to existing knowledge and skills. But, in today’s world where there is a skills shortage and the digital skills gap is growing ever wider, companies cannot afford to screen candidates out based on their lack of experience. It’s important for businesses to expand their talent pool, not restrict it.
Does experience within an organisation matter?
Post-hire experience is arguably more important than both education and experience. Organisations should consider the correlation between how long an employee has been in the role and how well they perform, as this can help with internal hires. Promotions and internal transfers are often a solution to the current skills shortage, especially if employees have demonstrated that they are capable and willing to take on more responsibilities.
Although internal recruitment is a popular method, it can create gaping holes in existing teams and can have an adverse effect on the company’s talent drive. It’s important that organisations consider the impact of hiring experienced candidates over fresh talent, as it can ultimately lead to the business stagnating.
How can businesses benefit from hiring fresh talent?
With fresh talent comes new ideas and perspectives, and what better way to acquire top talent than by hiring apprentices and graduates. Apprenticeship programmes and graduate recruitment can be a successful hiring strategy for ambitious companies that are competing to employ highly skilled candidates. Let’s explore the benefits of hiring fresh talent.
Apprenticeship programmes are an exciting opportunity for both the employer and the apprentice. Whether you’re hiring someone new to the industry or are upskilling candidates, employing apprentices is an effective way to grow and nurture talent, while also developing a skilled workforce. According to government statistics, 86% of employers have developed relevant skills within their company through apprenticeships. Apprentices bring the latest skills and innovative ideas to the business, but they also help share new practices with existing employees.
Business performance is often improved by employing apprentices for several reasons. Apprenticeship programmes enable employers to adapt their training according to the requirements of the business, which also contributes to the expansion and upskilling of the existing workforce. Apprentices are also motivated to learn new skills and their commitment to the company can be beneficial for the wider team.
Benefits of hiring graduates
Whether you’re a small start-up or a global corporation, increasing your graduate recruitment can bring valuable benefits to the business. Graduates have developed a thirst for learning and this translates into the working environment. Consider graduates as a blank canvas: they are ready to mould and be embedded into your company culture and do not bring bad habits that need to be unlearned.
Hiring graduates can bring a variety of attitudes, perspectives and new ways of thinking into the workplace. They have the ability to look at problems with a different outlook compared to existing employees and can contribute new ideas based on what they have learned from academia. Graduates have been continuously challenged to think differently, and therefore, can push themselves and their peers to think outside the box.