Degree or Experience – What’s more important to you?

Article by Scott Timmins

Something has dogged me for years and I am not sure what the answer is. So rather that continue to mull over it I thought I would ask our network of professional for their advice?

Recently I was asked to assist in a recruitment process. During the initial scoping phase, a robust conversation occurred around what they were looking for. Someone with a degree or someone with experience.

So, my question is – What’s more important, knowledge or experience?

Like many, I have had a diverse career. I started off my working life as an apprentice motor mechanic at the age ripe old age of 15. Back then being a tradie was all about learning from experience. Mostly hands-on with some theory to back things up. This suited me well as I wasn’t someone who learnt things by reading a book or by rote, I learnt by doing. Two trades and 15 years later I moved into HR. It wasn’t until this point that I started toying with the concept that some form of academic study was a tangible option.  Having been on both sides from time to time I am really interested to unravel this a little further.

Firstly, lets start with the Academics

Academics tend to start from the perspective that education provides people with an ability to critically analyse information based on the evidence available. It allows people to dive deep into a topic and come out with a well though out argument. This foundation provides a solid platform for people in which to become experts in their chosen field. Academia also provides confidence to the general public when dealing with professional like surgeons and scientists. However, for many graduates, it’s not until they enter a workplace as a qualified professional for the first time that they realise how important experience is.

Now the Experience advocates 

Experience proponents believe that knowledge and skills are gained on the job and in real time. The ability to problem solve in a real environment allows for the expansion of skill and the results are visible early. The longer you work the more experience you gain and in turn the more valuable you become to employers.  Experience brings you wisdom and a tried and tested formula in which you can continue to build on. However, becoming a professional in your chosen field takes time and lots of experience, often with mistakes made along the way.

To add a more complexity to the discussion here are few interesting statistics:

The most interesting research I came across was from a Gallup survey of 623 US Business Leaders. These business leaders were asked to rank how important four factors were when hiring.  The survey found that 84% of business leaders said that knowledge is very important, followed by 79% who said applied skill were very important when compared to whether they had a degree 9% or what major they completed 28%.

From my perspective, both knowledge and experience are essential in the modern workplace. As HR professionals and leaders, we need to find a way to create a balance between academic knowledge and work experience.

I would be really interested in hearing your perspectives, experience or knowledge around this topic….