Is education important to career success?

All too often the infamous examples of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are used in the context of successful college drop-outs. Their respective founded/ co-founded companies Facebook, Apple and Microsoft are 3 of the largest and most successful corporations in the world. Does this indicate that education isn’t necessary for success in business? It certainly indicates that formal education isn’t necessary for success in the tech sector.

However the tech sector is something of an anomaly, where the skills to prosper are often self-taught and require a more individualised learning approach. What about the wider business landscape?

Success as a CEO

A lot of people dream of producing a wildly successful startup company, but the majority will remain within the employment market taking more of an intrapreneurial role. A good measurement of success within the employed business market is to look at the CEOs of FTSE 100 companies. The FTSE 100 is the top hundred publicly traded companies with the largest overall market share value. Being a CEO of one of these companies is essentially the pinnacle of success whilst remaining an employee, with many receiving 7 figure salaries. Therefore taking a look at the background of these individuals can indicate what it takes to be successful in 2017.

The numbers on education

Amongst other socio-economic factors, education is one of the biggest drivers in the employment market. Research conducted by the Financial Times shows that the number of top CEOs educated in UK comprehensive schools have increased by 23.5% since 2007. This could show one of three things:

  1. Less importance is being placed on the educational background of today’s business leaders.
  2. The quality of schooling has increased in the state sector in the past 8 years.
  3. The appointment of individuals from less privileged backgrounds is a consequence of social mobility awareness.

Regardless of the exact reason the outcome is the same, those with a less prestigious educational background are becoming not as disadvantaged in ‘big business’.

However, data still shows that the majority of FSTE CEOs have attended university, meaning further education is still a strong consideration in the corporate world. Research by shows university uptake between independent and state school pupils is unchanged over the past 10 years. This confirms that the increase in comprehensively educated CEOs isn’t a consequence of changes in further education numbers.

Smaller scale success

What about individuals who seek success on a more conventional level that a FTSE CEO? Traditionally those without university/college education or outstanding A level results would be ushered into trades or unskilled jobs. However thanks to rapid changes in the makeup of the employment market this is no longer the case. Those who didn’t do well academically at school are now able to prove themselves, gain experience and even generate a decent income without needing that certificate to pass the gatekeeper.

The volume of applicable skills one can learn online these days is vast, and a lot of these can be a quick route to career success. Common fields are web coding, accounting, blog writing, graphic design or other computer based skills. You can build up an impressive portfolio employers will be eager to utilise online in under a year.

With a whole new freelancer economy emerging, individuals can offer these skills globally from anywhere with an internet connection. This just wouldn’t have been possible 15-20 years ago, leaving those with a good mind but bad aptitude for classroom learning at the bottom of the pile.

The big picture

If you want to make it big in the corporate employment market in 2017 you’re likely still going to need degree level education. Further down the chain a higher level of education is still advantageous to get your foot in the door, but not strictly essential. As long as you can provide strong financial value to employers you’re likely to put yourself in a relatively well paid position. However, even today, in roles that aren’t tech/computer related it can be very hard to get that opportunity to prove one’s self without a formally educated background.

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