Classroom or office?
The best ways to up-skill
and increase employability
Having a degree doesn’t guarantee you a job in your chosen field, and the cost of attaining one
is growing. However, recent OECD data shows that having any degree at all increases your overall
Around 85% of the population with higher/tertiary education is employed, yet this figure
is just 76% for people with post-secondary/non-tertiary education, and just 56% for those
without an upper-secondary education.
However, in terms of your earning potential, are two degrees better than one? Is a PhD better
than a Master’s? Does it really matter which university you attend?
The question many employees want to know is, “When do you hit the cost-benefit ceiling regarding
your education?” At what point should you forget about more education and focus on gaining more
practical experience? Or should you expect that you will always need do both?
Here, we look at the pros and cons of on-the-job versus formal training, and what the best strategies
for improving your career prospects really are.
How much education
One in four
Office for National Statistics, UK
and the supply-demand curve
Among 25- to 29-year-old graduates in the European Union, unemployment rose from 7% to 9.2% between 2008 and 2011.
While this was a large increase, the outlook was much worse for young people with only basic education—unemployment rose
from 16.1% to 24.3%. Statistics like this remind us that higher education does:
1. Increase the likelihood of finding a job
2. Decrease the likelihood of being outsourced or laid-off during downturn or market volatility
However, rising tuition fees across much of the western world makes the economic benefits of gaining a degree in the traditional
full-time/three-year timeframe harder to support, particularly given a Bachelor degree doesn’t guarantee you a job (and hasn’t
for quite some time now).
The first step in the right direction is to look at the data on employment prospects of each degree. Gaining the right skills—
those in highest demand—is as important as gaining the right level of qualification from the right institution.
Different degree, different employment prospects:
Data from Unistats shows that the following proportions of graduates secure a job related to their studies within
six months: 51% of graduates with a business administration degree 78% of those with a civil engineering degree
73% of those with a computer science degree.
To 10 University degrees for securing a job
(% of graduates 2010-11 that either found a job or entered further education
within 6 months of completing their first degree)
99.4% 94.8% 94% 91.9% 91.3% 90.9% 90.3% 90.1% 89.9% 89.9%
& vet science
to medicine, including
(and related subjects)
& philosophical studies
How qualified should you be?
As the list on the previous page shows, those degrees with the highest employment rates also tend to require
more post-graduate study. Just how qualified you need to be to get a great job will depend upon:
Your age and stage of career: the younger and less experienced you are, the more doors that higher
education will open.
Your field of study/expertise: If you’re in one of the Scientific, Technology, Engineering or Mathematic fields in particular,
a good degree with more post-graduate study will give you better employment prospects.
Your management/leadership ambitions: again, depending on the field you’re in and the size of
organisation you work for, work experience may be more valuable than extra qualifications. However,
if you want a leadership role when you’re still relatively inexperienced, or you wish to change industries
without taking a step backwards, you may need to prove you have the management theory behind
Either way, the strongest trend seems to be that workers are taking greater control of their own career
development. According to the 2013 Kelly Global Workforce Index, over 60% of workers are either actively
pursuing education/training for a new field of work (23%) or are considering doing so (38%).
Typically, the older we are, the more we will look for on-the-job opportunities for training and development.
Which of the following methods is most desirable to you
in terms of your skill development?*
The top way managers can improve job satisfaction is: to provide training opportunities (53%).
70% 58% 31% 26% 19% 19% 18% 16% 2%
On the job experience
The rise of the MBA
They’ve been around in Europe since the 1950s, and in the U.S. for quite a lot longer, but holders of a Masters of Business Administration
qualification have grown significantly in recent decades. For some organisations, holding an MBA is now a pre-requisite for an interview.
Two trends in this qualification are occurring:
1 MBA holders are getting younger: The average age of a full-time MBA student at Harvard Business School
is just 27 years of age, and many schools in the U.S have an even younger student profile for MBA courses.
Typically, upwards of 80% of students within the programs are younger than 30 years of age. Statistics for the
London Business School MBA reveals that students, on average, have just 5.5 years of work experience.
Hiring intentions for MBA holders in growth sectors is increasing:
The Wall Street Journal’s recent article on the rate of growth for MBAs seems to point to uneven hiring intentions.
The technology and energy sectors far outpace financial services (and even consulting) in their intentions to hire MBA
graduates. In fact, the number of tech companies planning to hire MBAs rose 22% between 2011 and 2012, and in
particular, demand for students with quantitative skills who can analyse user data and apply it to strategic expansion
and marketing plans is on the up and up. Yet, demand seems to be virtually flat from the financial services sector.
The rise of the MBA
Percentage of companies that hired/plan to hire new M.B.A. employees
* planned hires
Source: Graduate Management Admission Council (survey of more than 800 companies worldwide) & the Wall Street Journal
Statistics like these indicate that:
Growth industries may look for MBAs as a way of determining leadership ability in an inexperienced talent pool: there may be
greater benefit in gaining an MBA if you plan to work in growth industries such as technology and sciences. This is because
employers will be more likely to be hiring in a tight talent market, and will look for skilled (although not necessarily experienced)
managers to lead their growth trajectory. Sometimes, an MBA may be the only way to determine who these candidates are.
The cost of MBAs means younger students gain the greatest ROI: Given that MBAs can cost up to 75,000 EUR, gaining them
later in life leaves fewer working years to pay back the investment.
Whether or not an MBA improves the salaries and employability of already experienced talent is difficult to conclude. Research
on MBA salaries shows that, on average, MBA programs do lead to higher salaries for graduates. Yet, these qualifications are
hard to justify for older, more experienced candidates. If fast, early promotion is your goal and you have the time, resources
and aptitude to study at a great school with a good reputation, an MBA will probably pay off.
Demonstrate your soft skills
It’s not only the economic trends within a single country that will shape the careers of the future, but the trends of other nations operating
on the world stage as well. This economic shift is something critical for prospective employees to understand because the barriers to virtual
working are diminishing every day, meaning both employee and employer can cast their net for skills much, much wider.
In the globalised employment market, differentiation is key. If your skillset is easily outsourced or commoditised, your employment
prospects will be diminished. So, to be marketable and attractive to corporates and outsourcing firms that will help you access these
networks, you need to know that you’re offering what employers want.
Our research shows that these ‘soft’ skills feature prominently in workers’ toolkits:
77% 72% 69% 70%
Cooperation/ Active listening Verbal Organisation/attention
teamwork communication to detail
How you demonstrate your application of these skills in your chosen industry is important. Look for ways to demonstrate your soft skills
in ways might help you stand out from the crowd such as:
Leading online working groups and think-tanks such as LinkedIn Groups in your field can prove you have cooperation/teamwork skills.
If the Group is successful and influential, it’s proof that you’re able to connect the right people together, stimulate discussion and share
knowledge. Host webcasts or speak at events in your field to demonstrate your verbal communication and presentation skills.
Our research also shows that the skills workers are most likely to say need further development are:
64% 41% 37%
Bilingual Leadership/ Creativity/
skills initiative innovation
If you can prove you have these in both online and offline environments, you are already on the way to differentiating yourself from others
with similar qualifications.
More education improves your employment prospects—that much is true. However, weighing up the return
on investment for every qualification you gain is becoming more important as people change careers, job tenure
shortens and the need to gain new skills never ceases.
As workers move through their career, the more difficult it becomes to gain specific skills in formal settings in cost-
effective ways. That’s why organisations and the people who work for them must make informed decisions about how
they gain skills that increase their employability and productivity. They must know the supply-demand dynamics for the
market they operate in, and they must look for creative but relevant ways to differentiate themselves from other
Knowing your career goals, what you expect to gain out of each new skill you attain, and planning these outcomes
upfront will ensure you can make the right decisions for yourself.