​Uni vs. Experience - Should Kiwis gain skills over degrees when it comes to IT jobs?

Is it better to be book smart or street smart?

Two leading UK employers have ditched university scores as a key measure in their graduate recruitment programmes.

Ernst & Young and PwC are removing compulsory education scores from their graduate recruitment programmes in the hope of diversifying their talent pool.

As a result, E&Y’s UK graduate recruiting team will be removing the degree classification from its entry criteria, stating that there’s “no evidence” to support the notion that success at university correlates with achievement in later life.

E&Y are following in the steps of PwCs’ UK branch, who have already scrapped using UCAS points as entry criteria for their graduate scheme.

Maggie Stilwell, EY’s managing partner for talent, believes Academic qualifications will still be taken into account and indeed remain an important consideration when assessing candidates as a whole, but will “no longer act as a barrier to getting a foot in the door.”

The audit firm believes placing too much emphasis on the scores will mean employers may miss out on key talent from disadvantaged backgrounds, who can perform less well at school.

“The move by two of the UK’s biggest graduate employers is indicative of a changing paradigm in recruitment and people development,” observes Grant Burley, Director, Absolute IT - an IT recruitment firm in New Zealand.

“That workplace culture and innovative thinking can often take precendence over IQ scores and university grades. So what can we learn from this down-under?”

Skill sets over degrees when it comes to IT jobs

“Is it better to be book smart or street smart?” Burley asks.

Burley believes that many of those individuals without an advanced or tertiary education will be inclined to say they’ve done just fine in life without pursuing academia, whilst those with plenty of formal learning may attribute their success wholely to their classroom and university education.

“But when it comes to IT jobs and the tech sector, some of the greatest thinkers and entrepreneurs don’t have formal IT education,” Burley adds.

“Henry Ford (Ford Motors), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), and Larry Page (Google) are some of the world’s most famous college dropouts.

“Constrained by the formalities of education institutions these dropouts went on to form some of the most successful tech companies in history.”

Education and earning potential

Previous Absolute IT research found that New Zealand tech professionals with 10 years experience and a degree earn upwards of 12 percent more than those without a degree and the gap only increases as their careers progress.

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Education Counts conducted a study on Tertiary Education outcomes in New Zealand, finding that employability was higher for those with formal learning qualifications than for those without.

According to Burley, they also found that the estimated average hourly wage had a direct correlation to document literacy and qualification.

Importantly, they also discovered the value of work experience in place of education qualifications - the employment rate for a 35 year old with no or school qualifications is equivalent to those of a 25 year old with a tertiary qualification.

Experiential learning a win for IT recruitment

When it comes to IT jobs and finding the right candidate there’s more than formal education to consider, according to Burley.

“Will they fit in with the team? Do they have a passion for the work? Are they a naturally curious thinker?” he adds.

“Employers need to start looking inward, and consider their company’s purpose, vision and values when looking at candidates.”

For Burley, is it more important to have someone who’s ready and willing to learn, and gets along with the team, or someone who has years of university training but an introverted personality?

“Finding a good cultural fit for your team is just as important as finding someone with the desired technical skill set,” he adds.

“If you’re an employer, don’t use qualification scores as a quick fire way to create a short-list.

“Take the research these large organisations have done and know that some of the most successful, innovative and motivated thinkers might not have thrived in a traditional learning situation, but they could in your work environment.”

Absolute IT’s most recent tech sector employer survey revealed that 56 percent of IT employers give preference to IT job applicants who demonstrate industry specific or technical qualifications over a university degree.

IT employers investing in youth talent

While the Kiwi tech sector is still screaming out for top tech talent and the industry knows it needs more men and women studying tech, Burley believes the market for graduate roles is still fierce.

“Large organisations across the world know investing in young talent makes great business sense,” he adds.

“Xero, BNZ and Vodafone are only a handful who offer highly sort after graduate programmes here in New Zealand.”

Burley believes every organisation is looking for different things; a certain cultural fit, an innovative way of thinking or topmost education level.

“Most know what ‘recipe’ works best for them and all are highly subscribed too,” he adds.