Why in the UK is not significant weight and importance placed on excessive formal education?

In Germany, Japan and to a slightly lesser extent in the USA, many CEOs and Managing Directors hold PhD degrees. 

In the UK is it however less common. 

If one cannot 'break the experience barrier' by going via the conventional vertical career progression route, can the combined weight of several CIPD 7's and advanced degrees do it, cut the ice or show that you have what it takes, as you demonstrate some type of ability after all to get all the letters after your name?   

Or otherwise, set yourself up on the self-employed route as a travelling speaker or consultant on HR related issues. 

I feel that the UK model is based more on the guild system that originated in medieval times, that you learned, crafted, practised and mastered your trade or profession on the job through practical training and experience as an apprentice. Butcher, baker or candlestick maker.     

That is fine if you can get the jobs, but you can cannot, you then need to go another way, not the mainstream pathway but by thinking outside of the box. 

What is the end result of going all out in education, formal learning and development and if one eventually ends up with a PhD but has never held a managerial or an executive  post as they could not obtain one?  

Nowadays there is never a precise match between your level of education and level of job role.

What is however the also position of people who do get the experience but do not have the educational qualifications?

  • 65% of CEOs of Footsie 100 companies have a Master degree or higher according to research by H&S. So I do not think its true that the UK neglects or underplays formal educational qualifications.

    I also do not believe it is true that we are operating in some sort of medieval guild system where (by inference) people serve their time at one level and then move onto the next. That's just not my experience of working in numerous industries in the UK.

    What we do have (I believe) is a system where by we marry formal educational qualifications with practical experience and most importantly demonstrable added value and success in roles. Its the three things together that lead to successful careers at the higher levels.

    Trying (as you seem to be arguing here and elsewhere) that you can replace a deficit in one area with an over abundance in another (especially in formal educational qualifications) is a huge mistake and unlikely to work. In none of the countries you highlight would someone get on and to the top simply because they have formal education formal qualifications. They need the experience and success stories as well.

    Where people have formal qualification but are unable to demonstrate in a job that they can deliver and be recognised for work based potential the situation is often frustrating for the individual. The main reason (in my opinion) people get stuck at frustratingly low (for them) levels is that they can not demonstrate adding value to their organisations. Its that I would be focusing on .
  • Have to disagree with you Andre,
    In the countries cited there are numerous examples of very senior people, including CEOs, without a higher level qualification. Over the last 20-30 years most countries (including Japan) have moved towards recruiting or promoting on the basis of relevant experience and demonstrated abilities via their track record. If you are recruiting a CEO or CFO who is 45+, their academic qualification of 20 years ago is largely irrelevant when compared to what they have actually achieved.
    This is not spectacularly new. When I started work in 1979 in international civil enginnering and building, quite a few of the managers of larger construction projects (£100m+ in today's money) were time-served carpenters who had worked their way up and continued to develop organisational and managerial skills. i.e. no engineering degree.
    To be honest, senior jobs are in my experience NEVER filled solely on the basis of academic qualifications; demonstrated relevant track record, plus cultural fit are the determining factors. Senior jobs are less about technical know-how and more about organising, directing, motivating and mobilising teams. Indeed, technical experts often make bad managers when they cannot step away from the technical problems that should be managed and solved by the staff they direct.
  • Its because qualifications only show that you have an ability to learn the theory. They focus very much on knowledge and being able to do a job successfully is a combination of knowledge and skills, both practical and personal.

    My ex husband was an aircraft engineer and because his typing skills were pretty poor, i typed all his assignments out for his aircraft engineering degree. I also read a lot of the books he had as i am interested in it. Because i have a fairly photographic memory, i am fairly confident that I would have been able to replicate those assignments, pass the exams and potentially also gain that qualification.

    However, it would be completely unsafe to ask me to mend a plane as i have no experience, nor the dexterity and ability to work at heights/in enclosed spaces that i would need to work safely on a plane. Continuing to study and gain more knowledge of plane maintenance wouldn't make me any more suitable to be appointed to anything more than an entry level maintenance role, where i would learn the experience. Neither would it make me suitable to set myself up as a self employed consultant on plane maintenance, or give talks on plane maintenance.

    Being able to progress in a career is always a combination of knowledge, skills and experience of that type of work
  • In reply to Teresa:

    Great post Teresa, and it underlines that knowledge is not always necssarily acquired via a formal qualification.
    It also reminds me of the guidance note from Hay concerning the "Technical Knowledge" criteria of their job evaluation system. The system describes a representative scope of knowledge associated with each level for the factor but adds the key rider "however obtained". i.e. how a jobholder actually acquires this level of knowledge needed to do the job is irrelevant for job evaluation purposes

    PS I promise not to leave any planes with you for repair - OK for you ?


  • In reply to Teresa:

    Well said!
    Though I am rather disappointed Teresa, that after getting to the the end of your second paragraph, I was expecting to be delighted by your account of your own aeronautical engineering skills acquired on the back of helping your husband..... :-)
  • Having a degree is not necessarily a measure of your ability to do a job well. It is however, a measure of your ability to learn.

    Many - but not all degrees, cover what in effect is just the theory. In the context of HR, knowing that there are different models of HR management isn't really going to help you progress or indeed become an adept HR manager. Recognising that you are in an organisation which operates a different system than your previous job won't help unless you have the personal skills to adapt and change to the different system.

    Knowing that the average human attention span is less than an hour, won't help you as a trainer if you don't know what to do about it.   I recall that when I did my HR Diploma - at a university!,  we had one of our  tutors who had an academic qualification in some field of neuro science as its now called.  He gave us a 50 minute lecture on learning theory, including the fact that the human brain can't take in information for more than 20 or 40 minutes or whatever.   So when I asked him why we get continually fed with lectures, he was unable to give a decent answer.  He was a useless trainer.

  • There are much cheaper and faster ways to assess ability to learn than asking people to obtain university level degrees, and the latest trends of skipping the educational requirements for hiring confirm the idea.