The City & The Northern Girl #4

Experience VS. Education

Image: Dave Herholz.
Image: Dave Herholz.

Imagine you’ve finished your degree. A good solid 2:1 perhaps? You are of course ecstatic, high on life after finally conquering the three, maybe four if you’re really brave, years at university and you’re now ready to start the thing that every graduate dreads. The job hunt.

First, to look at the CV. Definitely could do with a bit of updating. It’s finally time to add the ever so important 2:1 classification; I have always hated the word ‘Predicted’. Check. Standard volunteering at *insert something worthwhile here*. Check. Drop in the prestigious Russell Group university line. Check. Oops, nearly forgot the trusty Duke of Edinburgh Award, practically screams ‘team work’ doesn’t it? Check. Now grab the template from the Careers Office to double check your CV represents something a well-educated 20-something would write. One section to go: ‘Work Experience’. Umm…

Employers want experience. They want to know you are a hardworking, team playing, customer loving person that will prove to be an asset to their company. These are life skills that can prove invaluable, as you make that tough transition from education to work. Even as a dedicated English literature student, I can’t help but question how important my knowledge of Shakespeare’s Othello will be when I’m faced with an interview for a PR and Marketing post. Or how my ability to translate Old English into something recognisable could possibly enrich my application for the Journalism sector.

It seems that this is a widespread opinion as a recent study by the Public Media’s Marketplace showed that, despite 25 per cent of employers valuing a bachelor’s degree more than they did 5 years ago, a staggering half of those employers said bachelor’s degree holders lack basic workplace skills such as communication and problem-solving. In other words: vital life skills.

Another study from the University of Hertfordshire is even more alarming as its study of 500 employers found that, when hiring graduates, almost half were more focused on looking for relevant work experience and a good work ethic as opposed to education. And it comes as good news for some that only one in four employers were interested in the class of degree, and even fewer, sob, were worried about a university’s reputation. Best scratch off the Russell Group university mention then.

I am not saying that higher education is a complete waste of time however; or else I wouldn’t be here myself. Those that do go on to higher education are proven to have significant advantages over their peers – higher employment rates, increased probability of a higher wage in the future and invaluable experience from university itself. Living away from home for the first time, handling new freedoms, commuting daily, sticking to deadlines and independent learning are all considered to hold value. But you need more than that. You need quality work experience.

I am sure you are all well aware of the importance of work experience within your chosen field, it’s drummed into us the moment we enter higher education as we are bombarded with information, leaflets and advice from the Careers Service.  Instead I want to talk part time work, which in my opinion is just as crucial. I myself in a flat of 12 last year was the only one to have a part time job. And out of that 12 only one other flat mate had had a part time job before university, which only lasted a couple of months before they quit to “focus on their studies”. Personally I think that they just didn’t fancy the long hours.

Does anyone else think that my flat statistics are ridiculous or is it just me? Perhaps it’s my working class background but I myself have held down a part time job at Jellybeans Play Centre since I was 16 in order to support myself financially as, quite frankly, my parents can’t afford to fund my social life as well as pay the bills.

During my time there I’ve learnt how to do the weekly food ordering, handled complaints, been shouted at by rude customers, been sent to clean up the remains of an exploding nappy, organised summer holiday workshops and events, implemented an advertising campaign, supervised a team of 10, laughed until I’ve cried with colleagues who I now count as my closest friends, nearly flooded work’s kitchen, hosted approximately 500 parties, danced to ‘Gangnam Style’ in a Jimmy Jellybean costume and worked 10 days in a row of 8-10 hour shifts. I can communicate, lead a team, make quick decisions, work long hours, use initiative and solve a double party booking crisis in minutes.

Now you tell me which an employer would value more: a graduate with a First Class Honors degree with two weeks experience at a family friend’s PR company, no part time job and has relied on their parent’s wallet for three years or a graduate with a solid 2:1, with years of continuous employment, juggling both part time work and studies and putting every penny earned into supporting their degree i.e. the dreaded black hole that is London-priced rent. For me, and the 250 employers who favoured experience, it is the second that has those ‘life skills’ that employer’s seek.

So do the benefits of a part time job fill the skills gap of a bachelor’s degree? And is it experience that triumphs over education? If that is the case, one has to wonder if university really is worth the £9000 price tag…

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