Further education and then even further education…when is the right time to stop?
10 years ago one of the most important goals for those looking to further their careers was obtaining a university degree. The degree was a mark of academic achievement, honourable reputation and sparkling future job prospects. Those that were lucky enough to attend university, and could afford to pay the fees, found they were a great help. Degree holders mainly found doors more easily opened for them, both when looking for jobs, and when going after promotions within their jobs.
Fast-forward 10 years and the job market has drastically changed. Approximately 1 in 10 graduates are still unemployed 6 months after graduating. For those that do have a job, the average wage for men is around £21,000, whilst for women it is just £19,000. The need to possess a degree has increased significantly; now in the UK 25% of jobs available require a degree as a minimum qualification. Some argue that the influx of willing undergraduates the UK experienced when the Labour government began their university initiative, pushing young people into university (despite the fact that the careers they may have wanted to pursue didn’t require them to obtain university education) has meant that the value of a degree has now dissolved.
This surplus of degree holders have now had to look elsewhere in a bid to distinguish themselves in the job market. With competition in every profession now extremely high, it can be quite a challenge to convince an employer that you have something special and can stand out from all the rest vying for that job vacancy. This quest has led many into taking the leap into even further education, in the hope that a Masters in their chosen field of study will open the door for their careers that degrees once did. The problem is, the more people that do Masters, the more their value will also diminish, and the need to obtain further qualifications will increase. This is a vicious academic cycle, and unless the government and British businesses work together to come up with genuine solutions, the problem is only going to get worse.
Although in some fields of study a Masters and other further educational qualifications are either a necessary requirement or an imperative stepping stone by which to enhance your career, there are plenty of occupations where this should not, and isn’t the case. In these occupations, practical life and work experience now speak volumes greater than a qualification stamped on a piece of paper. Although this is by no means new advice, it is something that current undergraduates and the newly graduated know but often shrug off, particularly when they are already struggling to finish exams, complete job applications and live a social life.
I know this from first hand experience. Ever since I was young child I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I studied hard but personal circumstances meant I didn’t quite meet the grades I needed at A-level to study Law at university. I therefore ended up doing Politics, and upon finishing my degree found myself in a difficult situation of choosing whether to apply to law school, do a Masters in international relations, and thus further expand on my degree, or go into the working world. Up until that point I had never had a working job, except for picking up odd-jobs like babysitting. In the end I chose law school, and having come out the other end, I was again recently faced with a similar dilemma; training contracts were near impossible to come by, and a Masters in international relations seemed like a safe bet.
Every legal job I applied to rejected me, despite me now possessing two degrees and a wealth of theoretical legal knowledge. What they really wanted, employer feedback I received told me, was someone who had not only sat enough exams to make their eyeballs pound, but who also had the practical working experience equivalent to that of a full-time working adult. To me, the fact that these are the criteria employers are now setting for recent graduates seems utterly ridiculous. But this doesn’t change that they do, and will continue to, assess people by these standards. Turning down the opportunity of a Masters, I am now in a legal publishing role, building up my skill-set, and my network, so that I can advance my career in a practical way. The difference in responses to my job applications has been remarkable – a few months in a working role have seen me get interviews I could only have dreamed about before.
Some may say in response to my advice that finding work experience is even harder than getting a job or continuing education. With competition amongst the younger generation rife, they wouldn’t be wrong. But this competition is also an opportunity to get creative. Find unique, niche companies to offer your services to, even through volunteer work. Don’t just look at what vacancies are currently available. Find the companies you like the sound of, and email them directly asking about what roles they may have available, and what you can offer them. Almost half of the job interviews I received was by using this prospective method. Most importantly, do not let rejections damper your spirits. At my lowest point, I had applied to over 100 job vacancies, and received only 1 failed interview. The important point to remember is just how quickly things can turn around for you, as long as you persevere and remain dedicated. Within 2 weeks of this happening to me, I had secured a job at one of the largest international news/publishing companies. So, if you find yourself at these daunting crossroads, stuck between further education or the working world, take your time, take a step back from the situation, do your research, and consider both options logically and rationally. You may find there are more opportunities than you had previously thought.