Monday, August 22, 2005

To qualify or not to qualify? – That is the question

For as long as I can remember this debate has taken place - What is the relative merit of ‘university of life’ training versus formal qualifications?

I have little doubt the greatest experience to be gained is through doing real work and learning on the job. But as I have become older and more experienced I have appreciated more than I perhaps did - the benefit of formal courses of study that lead to qualifications.

I gained all my initial management experience by actually managing and I would not change that at all but in the mid 1990’s I obtained – as a mature student – a Post Graduate MA in Healthcare Management which was really hard work. I was in a fairly senior full time and busy position in healthcare at the time and this was a three year course of study that I had to do over and above my job. Added to that of course is the everyday life that one has to lead and I have to say there were times when I asked myself why I was doing this. Nevertheless I plodded on and eventually emerged - after three years of what some might call 'hell' - with a highly regarded qualification of which I am very proud.

Ironically I do not believe the qualification and the study made me a better manager - perhaps just a person who now knows more theory. I think it helped me re-assess my personal development.

I strongly believe anyone who has worked hard to achieve formal qualification – however basic deserves to be recognised and celebrated for that achievement. This applies whether we are talking about hairdressing, plumbing, acting, underwater basket weaving – you name it – anything!

At times in my 35 year career I met people who had many qualifications but did not make good managers. Some people I met who had no qualifications made excellent managers. At other times I met people without qualifications and did not make the best managers and sometimes, those with a long list of qualifications did a fabulous job.

In my opinion it just is not a simple black and white argument. I feel success is more to do with the person rather than how many qualifications they have.

I really do not think we progress the debate by suggesting one or the other position as being the right or wrong one.

I would love to hear more views on this one.


Rocky said...

Wow what a topic. This could generate a great deal of discussion. I can certainly see both sides. The best case scenario would be to have a balance of both. Some of the most successful people I know do not have college educations. However, many jobs are not available to people that do not have certain degrees etc... This very much true in the medical field and social services. Many jobs require certain qualifications for billing insurance etc... I think that many of the most successful people I know are necessarily degreed people in the sense of college degrees. The most successful people I know are people that take action, get things accomplished and have a flare for people. This is a good one to ponder.

mike said...

Maybe the degree helps a person understand their field so they can then spend their time learning to be a leader. I don't think universities can teach us how to be effective managers at all, but they can give us a boost toward becoming experts in our field. I believe effective leadership requires knowledge of the field as well as leadership skills. My degree is in no way connected to my current field, but school gave me the tools and discipline to study my field on my own and become knowledgeable enough to be an effective leader. I went to college for a long time and eventuallly dropped out. I spent a few years learning how to be a leader (by doing everything wrong, I might add), then eventually went back to school and finished my degree. I think the experience and the schooling both helped me become an effective leader.

Trevor Gay said...

These are fabulous comments Rocky and Mike - thank you

Your views are similar to mine methinks. I just don't think there is a simple answer.

Life experience and a good education is the best mix it seems.

Tom Peters reckons a CV with a year 'gap' is always a good indicator of potential - I tend to agree.