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Degrees of influence in job search

EVERY year thousands of students graduate from Western Australia’s five universities and start the search for employment. The big question many graduates will ponder during this time is whether the time spent studying was worth the effort.

And while from an employer’s perspective a degree isn’t the automatic job winner it once was, it’s generally agreed that a tertiary education is a valuable asset.

These days, the marks a student attains count for much more than the degree and, in many cases, only get the graduate to interview level – particularly at bigger corporations.

Many businesses employ a wide variety of testing to discover the types of people they want to employ.

Even then businesses find they have to start from scratch, training new staff to fit into their culture – often requiring a highly credentialled graduate to start at the bottom of an organisation.

Study also has benefits for those with an employment history wanting to move up the corporate ladder. But, if you want to go to the very top, beware of taking too much time out of the ‘real world’, because a long study break may well be viewed as detrimental.

Manpower operations manager Stuart Webster believes a willingness to begin at entry-level employment is a major factor when hiring graduates.

Mr Webster said many graduates hindered their employment opportunities because of a “reluctance to start at entry-level work”.

But he said the demands from business were different, often due to the size of the employer, with smaller companies preferring graduates with several years’ experience to reduce training time, while larger companies were more prepared to train from scratch for a longer period.

When hiring staff many employers are faced with a wide variety of graduates holding a vast array of degrees.

Degrees increasingly are of a technical nature, such as engineering or computer technology, compared with more traditional generalist degrees such as arts or science.

And while there is debate on the value of each approach, many think the generalist degree is making a comeback.

“Smaller markets, like Perth, tend to have a market for generalist skills, but it depends on the market sector,” Dunhill Management Services general manager Bruce Henderson said.

The larger markets of Sydney and Melbourne tended to have a higher population, which can accommodate niche degrees, he said.

Adecco general manager Jodie Rowell said graduates with generalist skills often ended up in customer service or sales.

The pharmaceutical industry, for example, often hired graduates with general science degrees.

“Degrees on the technical and engineering side are highly sought after,” Ms Rowell said.

But while a technical graduate may have a greater likelihood of gaining employment in a specific area, such a degree is limited by its shelf life, according to Gerard Daniels Australia general manager of executive recruitment Paul Duffy.

“The shelf life generally depends on the degree but a technical degree has a shorter shelf life,” Mr Duffy said.

But whether graduates are holding a specialist degree or one of a generalist nature, the ongoing value of degree qualifications is prompting many in middle management positions to return to school.

For mature business people with 15 to 20 years’ experience, to go back and get a degree can be useful, according to Dunhill Management Services’ Bruce Henderson.

This is certainly the case for positions of general manager and above, for which applicants need a degree.

After several years in the workforce, however, many people find a three-year study hiatus puts them at a disadvantage in terms of current industry knowledge and developments.

For such individuals, studying part time while working would be a smarter choice.

For their part the universities are starting to cater for mature aged students, holding evening classes specifically for those working.

On-the-job education also is an area of increasing importance, with businesses often hiring graduates for their perceived learning ability and then offering them ongoing training.

The Australian Institute of Management runs 180 courses in WA with a management focus.

The institute’s Gene Howell said more than 60 per cent of AIM’s students were sponsored by their companies. Short courses were of particular benefit because what was learnt one week could be applied on the job in the next.

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