Education vs. Experience - What Really Matters More?

Region: Europe
Feb 22, 2024, 9:41:55 AM Published By Wirex Team

In the past, you could follow a career path by getting your foot in the door and working your way up. The more experience you gained, the higher you’d go. In the early 2000s, this began to change; there was more focus on education and job specifications were worded in a way that made qualifications, such as a degree, vital in certain sectors. 

While there are certain professions where a degree is a must (i.e. nursing, law etc.), with a fresh focus on apprenticeships and vocational qualifications, we take a look at whether experience is just as important as education in the world of work. 

Where a degree comes into its own 

There are certain career paths where qualifications are a must, which seem to be increasing in number. In midwifery, for instance, this used to be all about on-the-job training but a degree later became a prerequisite. Nevertheless, beyond these roles, gaining a degree still has its advantages: 

Studying at university allows students to gain life experience 

A solid education allows you to show a prospective employer that you have the required level of intellect 

There are options such as sandwich degrees that allow students to gain worthwhile experience alongside their studies 

To see just how important education is, in the UK, CEOs go beyond just a degree: 

  • 52% have a Masters degree 
  • 24% have a PhD
  • 22% have an MBA 

The value of experience  

While an education should never be overlooked, experience brings its own value too. When an employer is considering job candidates, they will also look at other factors that make a great CV, as a degree may only demonstrate an understanding of theory.  

When graduates leave uni, their CVs will likely be look a little bare., but imagine it’s packed full of real-life experience. Do those 5 years of actually doing the job trump a degree? In many cases, the answer is a resounding yes. 

The problem with qualifications alone is that more and more people have them. There was once a time when a select few had degrees, but in 2022, some 37.9% of 18-year-olds secured a place at university. This means that a degree on its own is no longer enough to land the best jobs and pursue a dream career.  

Victor Televych, Head of People Experience and Development for Wirex let us know his views; 

“I strongly believe that profound knowledge and relevant domain experience are two wings that mutually reinforce each other and enable great talent to fly. What we can witness today is melting borders between these intertwined components of a successful career path. On the one hand reputable credentialing organizations offering learning and certifications actively involve the best practitioners from real companies to constantly upgrade industrial standards and their educational programs. On the other hand, business projects spread horizons of professional standards via setting new benchmarks.  

From a company talent management viewpoint not only education and just experience are criteria to select talents but also person`s potential. That is why when all other conditions being equal, our team prefers candidates with perfect culture fit, strong cognitive abilities and aspiration to constant development even if domain experience is limited. From candidates` perspective the recipe for success in my definition is to keep good balance of well-structured formal learning from the best practitioners and active hands-on experience in the project that matches your values”. 

The middle ground 

So, it appears that both qualifications and experience have parts to play in securing a career. That’s where apprenticeships and vocational qualifications come in. 

Vocational qualifications aren’t necessarily about experience, but equipping people with the specific skills and knowledge that employers are looking for in certain sectors. 

It could be argued that apprenticeships offer even more value for employers. For the potential employee, they’re given the chance to study whilst also getting hands-on experience, and have the opportunity to get paid for that vital work experience.  

Chief People Office, Tracey Knowles, explains:

“there is a strong argument for both, and it really depends on the profession you are in. I am personally a huge fan of professional qualifications, as they demonstrate a specialist knowledge of specific area, for example, CIPD (HR), ACCA (Finance/Accountancy), CMI (Marketing) and are often done alongside full-time work, and therefore, demonstrating the ability to succeed in a real-world work situation, with the added bonus of formal qualifications. Feels like a win, win. I personally value work experience and on-the-job learning, as for me it’s been the most valuable asset I have when dealing with challenging situations and developing my own career.” 

A level playing field? 

There is plenty of research to show that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to enter higher education and pursue qualifications beyond general schooling, so a dangerous cycle has formed for each subsequent generations. 

While work has been done to support those from such backgrounds to gain university places, the push towards apprenticeships is providing new opportunities for people who could have otherwise been left behind. With entry requirements that are more easily attainable, apprenticeships give a great opportunity to gain the perfect mix of education, qualifications and experience.