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Education Vs Life Experience

Should hiring managers realise that mindsets, abilities and skills gained from real life experiences count for something more valuable than a college degree?

When you look at the success of Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Apple, it’s hard to imagine that all of these big tech companies were started by individuals who dropped out of college. Dropping out of college would seem to be the last resort for the rest of us. A college degree is often viewed as the path to a higher income bracket and the career of your dreams. That said, forbiddingly high university tuition fees and the growing popularity of online learning alternatives seem to be pushing companies to seriously consider candidates who don’t have a conventional degree on their CV. Furthermore, candidates with unconventional life experiences, who may have built a business from scratch, volunteered in a foreign country or as this article in the Harvard Business Review tells us, led a unit into battle, often have a wealth of knowledge to share that no one else can compete with.

Why have we brought up this topic? It’s because David Mead, Cisco’s UK and Ireland CEO, was in the news recently for dropping out of school at the age of 16 because of a motorbike accident. He was in hospital for two months and when he got out he decided that he wanted to “earn some money” instead of applying for his A levels again. In his interview, Mead does not advocate for dropping out of school but he does argue that a candidate’s attitude and aptitude count for more than the letters they have after their name. Some may argue that these are one-off instances and cannot be regarded as a new trend so to speak but the numbers say otherwise. According to the Burning Glass Institute, a US-based data-driven research organisation, the percentage of jobs requiring a college degree fell from 51% in 2017 to 44% in 2021. Furthermore, according to American analytics and advisory firm Gallup, young adults (between ages 18 and 29) in the US, who think a college education is important dropped from 74% to 41% over a period of six years. That’s a dramatic shift in perception no doubt fuelled by the pandemic.

Life experience definitely counts for something, particularly in the job market of today. Easy access to quality content, an explosion in the popularity of self-learning and the inspiring stories of start-up founders who built an empire from nothing that are all around us, are fuelling an entrepreneurial spirit that is taking the whole world by storm and may just change the way we think about learning and work.