Does having a qualification really matter?

When introducing yourself, do you lead with the qualifications you’ve achieved? Is this our unwritten way of gaining instantaneous credibility? Does it really work? Or is credibility attained through doing the hard work or being “on the tools”? These are questions that have been asked recently in conversation, and I wonder does having a qualification really matter in today’s day and age?

It seems for some it does and I’ve been surprised at the emphasis some sectors have on the expectation that employees have at least one qualification (and more than a vocational one). What’s more astounding is how this appears to create segregation in the workplace. Is more value placed on tertiary study and achievement rather than workplace learning?

In conversation with a friend in the tertiary sector, they experience isolation from others on a regular basis. Despite their role being customer (student) focused,  they’re often treated like they’re “bottom of the food chain” simply because they don’t have a Bachelor degree. They talk about a division in their team between the academics (who possess at least a Masters degree) and the service focused team members.

Have the academics stopped to think about whether they’d have students without these people? Often they’re the calm in the storm that is tertiary life; they support the students to want to re-enrol the following semester, to help them access support and advice, and to guide their transition to the wider world that is being employed!

So what makes this person “qualified” to do their role? If we look at 70:20:10, they’ve lived it and it’s all been rich learning!

  • They’ve done some formal learning; it just hasn’t resulted in a qualification.
  • They’ve been coached, mentored and supported by people who saw their potential.
  • They’ve asked the questions, tackled the challenges and figured it out as they went, developing understanding, empathy and experience along the way.

Arguably, this is what makes them qualified for their role.

There’s someone else struggling with the question of does having a qualification matter? It’s the person who introduces themselves based on their workplace experience, achievements and ability, rather than qualifications attained. They value the rich experiences they’ve had in their workplaces more than their formal learning; they believe this gives their credibility.

They’ve introduced themselves with “Hello my names is….and I’ve been working on/at….” rather than “Hello my name is…..and I have a Bachelor degree in….” Is there anything wrong with this approach? I’d hope not – perhaps we should make the choice to value the depth of work based experiences of individuals more than a “piece of paper”.

What has been learnt in this situation is that a lack of bragging about academic achievement led to an assumption. Because they’ve chosen not to start their get to know me conversations with their academic record, people have assumed limited qualifications have been achieved; they know at a base level there’s at least a vocational qualification. This assumption has resulted in an unspoken segregation and the individual feeling like their contributions won’t be considered. This segregation could almost be viewed as somewhat elitist – those with qualifications are superior to those without. Interesting…!

There’s a word I keep hearing people use – AGILITY – and I ponder whether this is something better developed through work based learning, and experiences responding and adapting to challenges, problem solving and decision-making, rather than through academic study.

How many of us have studied and achieved a qualification, only to no longer find ourselves working in (or dare I say for many, even interested in) what we initially studied? If we reflect on where we intended to be when studying and where we are now, are many of us still working in our original field?

So if we’re not still working in our original field, how relevant are our qualifications now, versus the workplace experiences we’ve had? Would we put more emphasis in our get to know me conversations on our academic or workplace achievements? Would we segregate others ourselves?

Now I don’t want you thinking this is some kind of rant or that I’m questioning the value of qualificaitions at all. That’s not the intent of this post – it’s to refelct on these conversations. They are genuine and got me thinking about how we develop our professional expertise and how in my situation it certainly wasn’t in a classroom; it was all my learning applied on the job (for those now asking the question, yes I do have qualifications, but I pride myself on how I apply my learning each and every day). My initial qualifications in education didn’t prepare me for that first moment standing alone, in a classroom, searching for the supervising teacher I was used to seeing. I learnt more in my first year of teaching than during my four years of university.

In these conversations I became concerned about how we don’t seem to recognise that we all have different experiences and creating a culture of valuing our experiences would be a good way forward. We all grow, adapt, change, modify our practice, grow our understanding and improve our agility to move in other directions. Most of us will have experienced this organically through our employment decisions or opportunities that present to us. In changes of career, as time goes by and university becomes distant memory, how much do our qualifications really matter?




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