What Do Employers Value More – Experience or Education?

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At some point during University, students are always asked the dreaded question, “Do you have any plans once you graduate?”. And after countless reports on university graduates being unemployed, the question of ‘is university actually worth it’ springs to the minds of not only many young people but also parents. Especially with tuition fees constantly on the rise, having been hiked to over £9,000 a year!

However, university isn’t the only path to success.

In fact, according to research firm Wealth-X, which recently released its annual Billionaire Census, nearly a third (30%) of today’s billionaires don’t have a bachelor’s degree.

In 1945, only 2% of the population went to University and now over 43% attend! It is becoming increasingly popular to attend University after College/Sixth Form. But, are students attending university for the right reasons and are the results worth the investment?

Of course, there will always be industries where a degree (or equivalent) is mandatory, for example, medicine. The education or experience debate becomes more fluid at this point, as highly skilled sectors like IT are also likely to require a good set of qualifications.


Why study for a degree?

There is no doubt that having a degree gives you a push on the career ladder and open doors to many opportunities. With the immense competition these days, there is a large pool of individuals wanting the same job, so having a degree can certainly help to give you an advantage.

Every University course will enable students to develop a valuable skillset required later in life. These skills include; academic writing, presentations, teamwork and many more. It increases employability – plus it proves to employers that you have good problem-solving skills, work ethic and are self-motivated!

There is evidence to show that a degree can boost salary earnings. According to the BBC, on average, graduates in a lifetime earn more than non-graduates by £250,000 for women and £170,000 for men. As well as salary, being educated to an advanced level allows easier access to higher quality jobs. Despite these figures, having a degree doesn’t always result in larger pay cheques.

As well as helping academically, University allows students to discover a lot about themselves and gives them the chance to grow and mature before entering into full-time work. The experience of living away from home with strangers can be very daunting, but is also important for personal growth, independence and most importantly confidence.


The rise of Apprenticeships

There are now many different routes to take after School/College, including over 1,500 apprenticeship courses – making the decision harder for most students. The variety of courses are constantly on the rise and the government has pledged to create a further 3 million apprenticeships by 2020.

Many people perceive apprenticeships to be solely for trades, but they are offered in many other sectors, including law, engineering and accountancy. These jobs were previously only reached by obtaining a degree, however that is no longer – increasing the demand for apprenticeships and many students struggling to decide between a degree or an apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships allow students to enter the workforce with little or no experience and then learn whilst on the job. They can be a great option if you know what you want to do, career wise, as individuals can get straight to training for their career. Experience is paramount and most employers will require it, so you may have a first-class honors degree, but that will certainly not secure you the role of your dreams!

As well as gaining independence and confidence, working on the job allows individuals to learn first-hand industry knowledge. It enables the chance to learn hands-on instead of just from a textbook or lecture slides.


Do grads really earn more?

The pay gap between graduates and apprentices has now massively decreased and, depending on the job, apprentices can earn more than graduates. Let’s take the media industry as an example, there is the option of both a degree and apprenticeship available for a job within media. However, it is found that those taking apprenticeships are making up to 270% more than those who went to University!

Despite the starting salary for an apprentice being fairly low, it is still more than an undergraduate will receive whilst they’re studying. The opportunity to earn whilst you learn and avoid the ever-growing debt from University is a major bonus.

The average salary for an apprenticeship is £20,536, whereas for a graduate it is just under £23,000. Even though a grad may earn slightly more which can continue increasing with experience, they need to consider the debt and expenses that come with having the degree. Also, once an apprentice is fully qualified their salaries can immensely increase.


Don’t just take our word for it – many successfully entrepreneurs never finished, or even started a degree! Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson and Bill Gates are just a couple of the most successful University drop outs who now own very successful, multimillion-pound companies.

What’s most important is continually finding ways to further your learning, long after completing any formal education.

There is no doubt that a degree will always be valuable when applying for jobs. However, it is not the only way to get a good job and command a chunky pay cheque. Due to the increase in apprenticeships and entry-level jobs, there are now many different routes to take. Do your research!

While experience can offer transferable skills, and a better understanding of the business landscape – both experience and education can be an asset to an organisation. There’s no right answer as to whether experience or education makes a candidate better for the job, it will ultimately come down to the business and the industry you’re in!



Are you an EA, PA, or business support professional looking to take your career to the next level? Executive Partnerships can help. We’re a specialist recruitment agency working with leading companies and organisations to connect them with talented staff. Learn more at

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