Are University Degrees Important Anymore?

A high profiled Sales expert who works for one of the largest telecommunication companies in Ghana said to a group of young people during an event, “I do not hold a degree in Sales, but I am extremely skilled in sales. No degree holder in sales can beat me in my job as a sales person. It is a skill I learnt through working on the field and the experience I have gathered over the years while working. It is not based on any degree I have gained”. The tough question then is, “Are degrees really important anymore?” I completed my undergraduate about four years ago, however, I still have many of my friends who have not had the chance to work for any employer, they are jobless. I have met many Masters degree holders who either have no jobs or are under paid. The degrees have become worthless paper lying on their tables.

What should the focus be – degree or skill development?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with attaining a degree from any reputable institution, however, students should not rely entirely on the degree as a means to securing jobs or creating a business. When I was in the second year in the university, I was curious to understand why lots of young graduates are jobless. Before you blame the government or the educational system (which I do too), try to be curious as a student. I started searching for answers on how not to be jobless as a graduate and this led me to volunteering to organise the free networking forum at the university called Barcamp Cape Coast. My aim for volunteering was to learn how to work with team members of different characters and expertise. It was a skill I wanted to build before I complete my degree because I knew that was a valuable skill.

I took an unpaid internship with one of the largest telecommunications in Ghana for two years while studying as a regular student at the university. My aim for such internship was to become adept in the corporate environment, what are the dos and don’ts, learning corporate work ethics and learning how to manage office politics. It was an observing moment for me. I opened up myself to every task regardless of whether it was within the university programme I was reading or not. I was doing this internship during school hours and vacation. I valued the degree, but I knew I needed something more in order to get a job. I joined great social groups on campus learning how to plan and organise events for students. I helped organise lots of events on campus and attended several of them while a student on campus. I took time off during lecture periods to meet industry experts to ask questions (some of the questions I asked were not smart questions, but I asked) and learn from them and also attended events outside campus. I intentionally accepted an underpaid job as social media and content manager while studying as a student to enable me learn how to implement the skills I have acquired. It was a good platform for me to make all the mistakes I needed to make and learn new things. During these moments of training myself, I was also under-performing as a student. My scores were lowering slightly, so I begun to give equal attention to both skills development and the school degree.

Before completing university, I had earned a skill in social media management and was ready to help organisations with online publicity, online branding and also had my degree. The truth is this, when I first got employed, I was never asked to show my degree certificate. In all the jobs I have applied for, I have never been asked to show my certificate. The question my employers often asked was, “Do you have the skills we need to deliver this work? Can you show us some of the previous job you have worked on?”

The challenge I find in Ghana and across some parts of the world is, we put too much importance on degrees. I have been rejected by some employers because I do not have Masters degree even though I have the skill to deliver the work exceptionally and much better than a Masters degree holder. Instead of employers adding the degree requirement, the emphasis should be on skills requirement. The over emphasis on degrees as part of job selection is the reason why there is an influx of private universities and graduates across the nation. Employers should restructure their job description. Skills acquisition is as important as degree acquisition! Employers should give more opportunities for young people who are willing to intern and learn some valuable skills.

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