I was listening to the Today programme on National Poetry Day and there was a wonderful clip from an interview with John Betjeman from the 1960s. It seems that he was sent down from Oxford without a degree and went on to be a teacher of a variety of subjects in a private school. He subsequently became Poet Laureate and one of England’s most beloved poets.
It got me thinking about qualifications and just how important they are.
These days it seems that it’s almost impossible to even be considered for a job without the requisite degree as if the achievement of this is an indicator of intelligence and ability and without one, well…
Clearly there are roles for which a formal qualification is desirable prerequisite. For example, if I’m about to have open heart surgery or embark an aircraft, I’d like to think the person in charge has been through the necessary training and assessments. But when it comes to business, is it really an indicator of ability?
Defenders of the tertiary education requirement will rightly say that it is a gauge of many things: ability to study, absorb information, self motivate etc, but the degree qualification does not necessarily demonstrate intelligence or, indeed, the more elusive thing called nous, or common sense. Until recruitment departments work out how to spot nous, they will continue to use the more left brained “qualification” to weed out potential candidates.
Of course it makes recruitment slightly more hit and miss and more cumbersome because the pool of people becomes that much bigger if the elimination stage excludes the qualifications hurdle. But the payoff could be fantastic. Just imagine being the recruiter who overlooked Steve Jobs or Deborah Meaden, to name just two of a distinguished group which couldn’t tick that box.
For many roles in the business world things like common sense, drive, reliability and flexibility will often take a person (and the company) further than a BSc in an ostensibly unrelated subject. The challenge for HR now is develop ways of finding these elusive but innate qualities.
Finally whilst I declare my bias, having no degree myself, here is a quote from Cicero:
“Natural ability without education has more often raised man to glory than education without natural ability.”