Does being a graduate make any difference at work?

Everyone has heard the mantra, study hard to get into university, study hard at university and come out at the other end with a good degree that will get you into a good job. The theory sounds great, and we can all cite at least one of the advantages of having a degree.

But about 40% of the unemployed in the US currently are millennials with a degree who are saddled with student debt and have found themselves having to take jobs at below the levels of those who had gone straight into the workplace.

Is there any value to having a degree anymore?

There is some foundation to the idea it is skills that matter. In 2018 IBM’s CEO has publicly said that getting a job there is about the skills you have not whether or not you have a degree. The founder of LinkedIn has said much the same. If you can do the job at least at a company level you are hireable.

The gatekeepers

The idea sounds lovely, but the practicalities are a different ball-game. Often getting into an organization requires a passing through a gatekeeper and more often than not, they do their job by ticking boxes.

The process is straightforward. A company will outline the job requirements and the experience necessary. It is a form of shortcut to say graduate – it means the individual has demonstrated a set of skills. It is a sort of shorthand. It says that you can apply yourself and that you know how to take information and turn it into something practical. You also have some sort of communication skills.

When you can’t show the shorthand, you don’t get past the gatekeepers, and unless the CEO’s are personally checking in with the HR department, which at that level I am sure they are not, then not having a degree is going to make all the difference.

A higher salary

A graduate can expect to make up 40% more than a non-graduate at the same job. Accepted that the salary for both may be relatively low, but $1.40 instead of $1 is a significant difference. This is a pattern which will repeat itself for quite a few years in the workforce.

Different job types

Another major difference is the sort of jobs for which you might be considered. It is not necessarily fair or equitable but a graduate would be considered for programs within an organization which a non-graduate wouldn’t and vice versa. The assumption is that as a non-graduate you would consider a low-end job, whereas you would be pickier as a graduate or that you might even have a vocation.

It seems ironic to me that a plumbing apprenticeship will take you five years to complete while you can get a good general degree in four. If you have a burst water main, what you want is someone who can fix the problem, not someone who can analyze it.