Sunday, February 17, 2008

Qualifications or Experience?

For 3 years between 1996 and 1998 I studied for and obtained my MA Management (Healthcare) at the University of Plymouth. I completed the course through day release whilst holding down a busy senior healthcare management position.

When we started the course there were 10 students. At the end of three years only 3 of us had stayed the course and completed our dissertation.

Ten years on I am very proud that I stuck at my Masters and saw it through when the easy option would have been to give up. I can say there were many times during the 3 years when that option was very attractive.

After my graduation a colleague at work asked if I thought the Masters made me a better manager. I had difficulty answering the question then and I still struggle with it.


I got my Masters as a mature student – I was 43 when I started the three year course. I think doing the Masters as a mature student had advantages because I had already gained many years experience as a manager by that time.

I would certainly never ‘knock’ anyone who obtains qualifications – I know how hard it is and what a toll it takes on the student. On the other hand I feel there is equal value to learning by doing.

What are your views about the qualifications versus experience debate? – I’m still unsure

9 comments:

steve said...

I believe both are invaluable, although if you could have only one, I'd choose experience--at least you know that they can actually do the job. However, many with only experience are pretty much living and working in the past--how it worked "then." Without the challenge of learning new things, they risk growing very, very stale. Likewise, someone with only education cannot, by definition, have any real chance of understanding how things work in the "real world." I can't imagine, for example, be willing to get on an airplane being piloted by someone who has only practiced on a simulator.

Dave Wheeler said...

First, as one who has been working towards a degree for many years now I would say congratulations for having the determination, focus, and "old school" work ethic to complete a challenging course of study. I know returning to school as a "mature student" myself, my work experience made it much easier to understand the theories and know which ones would get results and what to avoid. Experience is a great teacher as well. It is true many folks will doubt your qualifications without the degree, and the lack of one might not enable you to compete for some positions. Your knowledge, performance, experience, and demonstrated ability to achieve results "qualified" and enabled you to progress to your position without the MA. The degree could only augment th skills of an already highly skilled and proven leader.....

progmanager said...

I would take expereince - every time! The problem with taught degrees is that it takes so long for good practices to be recognised, codified and included in a taught programme that they are usually at least a decade old by the time they are taught.

This is especially true in management and leadership where most courses teach what worked in the 90s rather than what is likely to work in the future.

This, compounded by a policy drive to achieve a more qualified (but not necessarily a more competent workforce), means that I would favour experience over qualifications every time.

Of course I am always looking for evidence that people are still learning - but learning from their own experience and research - rather than what is (usually) being 'spoon-fed' at the local higher education establishment.

Peter said...

Trevor,we must first ask ouself what is 'success' ?

IMHO, Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It's what you do for others.

Having said that,Who can accomplish more? Someone with maybe too much experience in trying and failing, or someone who doesn't know any better than to try?

an this brings me to my last thought/question is having 20years of experience doing the same thing equal of doing 20 years of different things ??

Qualifications are just a means to an end. The end should always be success for others. That is true leadership and spirit of well being. regardless of what one learns or how one does it !!

btw, I think edison was a failed his studies ..but he had more inventions under his belt then mos others :)-

David Wike said...

1st Attitude
2nd Experience
3rd Willingness to go on learning
4th Qualification

Preferably a good bit of all four!

The Dan Ward said...

Good question, Trevor!

I'd say Experience is a description of what you've done or seen. This may or may not contribute to your qualifications (particularly if you've seen more than you've done).

And I'd say Qualifications are the personal attributes that contribute to your ability to do something. Qualifications could come in the form of experience, ability, motivation, etc.

Then there are certifications (i.e. formal education, training programs - anything that gives you a piece of paper saying you know stuff). I think that's what you meant my "qualifications," and for my money, certifications are designed to get you in the door - but they don't predict or guarantee performance (an assertion admittedly based on no data). All sorts of low-performers had good grades from good schools.

So certifications can be helpful - I've got several myself and am in the process of getting another one - but if I'm looking for someone to work with, I'm more interested in what they've done and what they want to do than their formal training & education.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks all for your brilliant comments – I really appreciate you calling in at Simplicity Blog. I am on the road all this week again so please excuse my brief replies.
Steve – I love the analogy of the pilot and the simulator - brilliant!

Dave W - keep on trying with the Degree -it will be worth it in the end. As the great Sir Winston Churchill said - Never Give up.

progmanager – I think what you say is crucial – the mindset that says ‘I’m still prepared to accept I am still learning’ is the most important mindset of all.

Peter – I love the idea that success is defined by how much we help others – in management one of our greatest responsibilities is to effectively coach and mentor at least one person in our career.

David W- As I have written before I come from the school of leadership that says we should recruit for attitude and train for skills rather than the other way round as we have done for the last 100 years in the UK

Dan – as someone ( I can’t remember who!) said ‘As I get older I pay less attention to what people say and just look at what they do.’

Rocky said...

Great discussion. I think both are very, very important. The biggest thing to me about qualifications is it says that you will maintain a commitment for an extended period of time. However, I think that experience is not replaceable. As Steve stated, I want someone who has actually had hours of flying the plane not studying how to fly it. Most people that I know that are very successful in business have built their success on experience and grit. Very few are highly educated. They have honed their skills in the work environment and have been self taught. Don't get me wrong I place a very high value on education. But I think experience wins out in the end.

To put another spin on it I would not want a surgeion operating on me that got his knowledge through a correspondence course or who learned by practicing on the family pets. So education is very important. I just think that for the most part experience is very hard to beat.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Rocky - most of the people I speak to about this and those commenting on Simplicity Blog seem to agree with me that nothing beats experience ... And it seems to me the key message I’m picking up is having a mind that remains open to learning.

Hope you are well my friend