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Business And Careers Careers Advice Parenting

Are universities too powerful in the modern world?

University degrees are overrated. There, its out there and I am not taking it back! I have major concerns about the stranglehold universities have over both our children’s education and their future recruitment.

I first began to question the value of degrees a few years ago. When I was on the interview panel seeking, to recruit an individual for an entry level media relations role. Numerous graduates had applied for the job and every applicant’s CV followed the same pattern. Degree followed by 12-18 months work in either unpaid or short-term internships, often lasting around three months.

Discrimination against people both with and without University Degrees

This experience made me question what was going on in the world of recruitment. It seemed to me that there were so many graduates looking for work that employers could be hyper-selective. To the point that young adults who had left university tens of thousands of pounds in debt could find themselves working unpaid before securing their first entry level role.

Were they in a better position than someone who left school and went straight into work after school? At least the 18 year old school leaver would be earning a proper salary by their early twenties.

I heard of another horror story that demonstrates the negative impact mass university education has had on recruitment. Someone I know with 18 years’ experience working in IT management interviewed for a new job. One of the interviewers asked why his degree wasn’t on his CV. My friend explained he didn’t have a degree, at which point the atmosphere changed. He never heard from the interview panel again. I can’t say for certain what the problem was on this occasion, but I’ll take a guess.

Encouraging young people to finish school and go to uni has been going on for the past 25 years. Government policy was to get at least 50% of youngsters into higher education. This was only dropped in the past few months. The result is that we now have 25 years’ worth of graduates in the workforce. Many of them in managerial positions and recruiting staff. These managers naturally want to recruit their own kind and so graduates have the edge. We’re now in the ridiculous position where many administrative roles require you to have a degree.

For Universities, with great Power comes great Profit.

Universities are doing nothing to stop this. They’re making a fortune in tuition fees. It’s not in their financial interest to make degrees difficult or be fussy about who they let through the doors.

As if to prove the point, I recently bumped into an academic I know while at the supermarket. It was a typical lockdown thing, we hadn’t seen each other in several months and so spent the best part of half an hour, facemasks covering our faces, putting the world to rights while stood next to shelves of dried pasta (one metre apart, obviously).

During our chat, he admitted to me that some of the degrees his students study were bumped up to the Masters degree. The degree had been simplified so it could include modules on skills such as giving presentations, the kind of thing a corporate trainer teaches you in a day.

Students are leaving university around £60,000 in debt. What are they getting for that debt? If this is a typical example my friend gave, it suggests that many students are getting sub-standard degrees. They will spend a year or two in insecure, poorly paid work before getting an entry level job. I am not against universities or degrees, but I find myself seriously questioning the wisdom of mass, degree-level education.

Alternatives to University

Universities definitely have their place in the higher education system. What’s happened, however, is that alternatives are thin on the ground. I am just old enough to remember polytechnics. They were much derided, but with hindsight I think it’s fair to say they had an incredibly valuable place in our education system providing technical, vocational qualifications.

I’d also question whether teachers and career advisers do enough to encourage youngsters to consider apprenticeships or Higher National Diplomas. Modern apprenticeships, especially higher apprenticeships, look like a superb way to gain a degree and work experience without building up any of the debilitating debt (someone I know involved in recruitment tells me his organisation recruits apprentices and also has a graduate fast track scheme. He says the apprentices are often brilliant whereas many of the graduates arrive “with an attitude problem.”)

The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has publicly said he thinks there is a “snobbishness” around vocational qualifications and that he wants this to change. I think he is absolutely correct and I am delighted to see the Government introducing T-Levels and is pushing to increase the profile of apprenticeships. For any dads wishing to give their kids some career advice vocational qualifications are something to consider.

The recruitment industry, however, has a role to play. If an employer or a manager says a role should only be open to graduates, recruitment agencies and HR professionals should ask why. Employers and managers need to challenge their own bias about non-graduates.

Mass, degree education may have seemed like a good idea when it was introduced. A quarter of a century later, I think we need to ask if the power unwittingly given to universities is doing more harm than good.

If you want to read more about this topic why not have a read of why the apprenticeship route is a smart alternative choice to university.

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Business And Careers Careers Advice Parenting

Dads: Careers advice for your children

As your children get older, your role as a father changes. While my eldest daughter is only 12, I have found myself having to give careers advice. And have to talk to her about the educational choices required to achieve her career choices.

Giving careers advice to youngsters presents certain challenges because the world of employment moves rapidly. When I was young, internships didn’t exist. Neither did modern apprenticeships and if you didn’t go to university, people would cross the road to avoid you (okay, slight exaggeration but university was the expected route for most people).

So what careers advice should a father give to their child in 2021? How can you make sure you are not giving advice suitable for the 1990s? I’ve spoken to a recruitment expert and leadership expert (both dads, fittingly), a higher education expert and a Government Minister to find out.

Don’t expect to have everything figured out from day one

As a teen, I felt under immense pressure to decide what I was going to do with my life. Much of the pressure came from my family who wanted to know I had a firm career path. But transformative coach Matthew Fox says this is a mistake.

“Don’t feel that you have to have worked out how life is going to be from day one. There are many chapters that will unfold which you can’t predict or control. Enjoy each of them as they lead to the next one.”

Fox, who works with senior leaders and business owning dads, added that you “shouldn’t compare yourself to others” and that you should “be ready to jump at opportunities when they arise.”

I found these comments very interesting. I was expecting something about choosing your A-levels. Fox, however, seems to be suggesting flexibility and a positive mental attitude will take you far (you can check out Fox’s leadership and fatherhood podcast here).

Consider vocational qualifications

The Government has made no secret of its desire to make more vocational qualifications available and to increase their appeal. One of the newest qualifications is the T-Level which was launched last year.

Rather like A-Levels, T-Levels are available to study immediately after GCSEs. You study them for two years and they are a mix of classroom learning and on the job experience. A T-Level is the equivalent to three A-Levels.

Speaking exclusively to DaddyJobs.co.uk, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills Gillian Keegan said:

“With course content designed by over 250 leading employers and a nine-week industry placement included, T Levels offer young people a unique opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills businesses need so they can get a head start on their future career.”

As a new qualification, T-Levels are only available in a few industries right now. But they’re going to expand massively between now and 2023. Keegan explained:

“Those interested in designing buildings or managing construction sites should take a look at the T-Levels in Construction, young people keen to explore a career working with children should think about the Education and Childcare course and anyone thinking of becoming a programmer or a software engineer should consider our Digital T Levels.”

T-Levels look like a superb option to academic study and the planned subject areas (see here) are very impressive. These are definitely a qualification to watch, especially if you have a younger teen as more options will be available to them in the next few years. Encouraging children to look into this route could be a good piece of careers advice.

Career paths can be “wiggly”. So your careers advice may need to be “wiggly” too.

Josie Whiteley is a former lecturer, freelance education consultant and vice-chair of the National Education Union Leadership Council. (In other words, she’s a big deal in the world of higher education).

As you might expect, Whiteley is an advocate of higher education. Stressing that youngsters should make choices based on their interests:

“When making choices whether for GCSEs or jobs choose subjects/specialisms/areas that interest you, not what your parents or teachers say you ought to study.”

While big on education, Whiteley says practical skills are important: “Dads should ensure their kids know how to budget to survive college, the real world or a job.”

Whiteley also said dads should encourage their offspring to research career choices. As they may be working in their chosen field for years, maybe decades. Even so, she said young people should not panic if something doesn’t work out: “If you make a wrong subject or career choice you can always change. Your road map to reach your ideal job might just look a bit more wiggly than a straight route from A to B.”

It’s about YOU

“I’ve interviewed thousands of people over the years and I can categorically tell you, not one person has been offered a role where they didn’t fit the company.” says recruitment specialist and dad Phil Palmer, AKA The Corporate Dad.

Palmer has not only worked in recruitment for 12 years, but is trying to help his 18-year-old daughter navigate “the important choices in her life”. He believes that “education is just one of the tools that you will need. A lot can come down to ‘you’.”

He adds that having a degree can be important for certain roles. He states:

“I wouldn’t want an unqualified doctor working on my appendix”. But stresses he’s known graduates starting in admin roles and senior C-suite executives without degrees.

Palmer says social skills are vital, especially in an interview scenario. Answering with yes / no answers won’t get you far.

“What do you like? Can you hold a conversation and talk about interesting and relevant facts? Do you actively listen?”

I thought this advice followed on nicely from Fox’s. Employers want to know that you are the right person for the role and that you have the skills to do the job well. Again, it’s not simply about qualifications as it can come down to your ability to hold a conversation and communicate.

In summary; a good piece of careers advice is that character is important

Providing your children with careers advice is never going to be easy. Speaking to these experts, however, shows that an individual’s character is vitally important. This will dictate their attitude to decision making and study. It’ll also dictate whether they fit in an organisation and have skills such as communication and listening skills. Qualifications definitely have their place, but youngsters shouldn’t feel railroaded down the academic route. If there’s one thing I have taken away from this exercise, it’s that career paths are not always straight. Youngsters should not feel pressured to have their life mapped out at a young age. They may not know what they want to do at first and mistakes can be undone. It’s up to us parents to support the decisions our children make. And accept the fact we may not necessarily agree with them.