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Which is more important; level of education or years of experience?

Recently an institution I work with has adapted a "talent management" system of determining a person's pay scale, title, etc. Many people who have held a job for years may have their jobs "down-graded" due to lack of educational degrees even though they are top in their fields with 15 or more years of experience. In a talent management approach, which is more important; talent gained through education or talent gained through years of doing the job?

  • May 15 2013: It sounds ridiculous to me to try to measure talent by the way you got your skills instead of the skills themselves. On one hand a degree is the easiest and fastest way to prove you have the necessary skills for certain job, but on the other hand a degree may also say you are capable of something you forgot years ago. Indeed knowledge is a very important aspect of "talent", however a formal academic process is not the only way to achieve (quality) knowledge.

    I think, doing your job effectively and efficiently is a whole lot more important than how you learned it.
    • May 16 2013: I completely agree and think you said it well, George QT! Education can open the gates to the opportunities but you have to be able to perform to stay on that level.
      • May 16 2013: Not only that, practice is what makes the master, people also learn by doing, which by the way is the new trend in college education.
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    May 15 2013: Normally an institution does not want to alienate the high performing people. This sounds suspiciously like the leadership is trying to get rid of some people for another reason, and conveniently the people they want to get rid of do not have the particular degrees the new pay system identifies.
  • May 15 2013: I find this to be heavily dependent on area of expertise. I could foresee that someone who relies heavily on knowledge gained through education for their profession could place a greater amount of value on their college degree then another. For instance, someone who probably is a teacher would place greater emphasis on where/how they were educated over how much experience they have teaching. (that is my impression at least)

    In my chosen profession, education is seen as valuable but unable to cover 100% of everything (not even 25% for that matter). As an architect, there are so many things for us to learn and know through out our careers that it is impossible to learn all of it in school. As a result, most universities invest large amounts of time developing what we call the Schematic Design phase, or the part where we brain storm ideas and present them to clients. This part is important, but like I said, it doesn't even cover 25% of what we do. (Construction Document, Administration, etc.). On top of that, education can dodge more basic and essential office skills, like how to conduct yourself at meetings, interacting with clients and co-workers, etc. In fact, we can't even become licensed as architects until we've completed at least 3 years of actual work experience - there are things that you just don't learn in school that you learn in an office environment.

    I know the same is true for lawyers and doctors (I come from a family of lawyers and doctors). I still believe my education was extremely valuable - but if I were to weigh to the two in comparison to each other for myself, I would place greater emphasis on experience. That being said, I always attempt to continue to educate myself - reading, lectures, etc. - because I don't want to lose the capability to learn and gain more knowledge.
    • May 15 2013: Kevin, this is a very good point. My husband is an architect who was lucky enough to grandfather into the NCARB testing through his years as a construction worker and then 15 years as an architect with a small firm. He may not have had a formal education but he was exposed to a variety of projects over the years and is now a well respected licensed architect. This is my point. His work in construction has given him great insight into dealing with contractors. he has an excellent working relationship with them that includes mutual respect and his project seem to run a bit smoother due to this experience.

      In my work as a financial aid officer for a large community college there really isn't a degree program to train you for this work. My degree is in Psychology. We have people with English degrees, History....Nothing that actually gives you what you need to process federal financial aid. Yet if we have a degree we could be paid more than someone with 20 years of experience in the federal financial aid field. How can this be justifiable?
      As George QT remarked ...How can you measure talent by the way you got your skills rather than the skills themselves?
      • May 15 2013: Agreed. And I've seen similar things, where people working in a field come from various backgrounds ranging from English to Psychology. It makes it seem like degrees are no longer geared towards achieving success in one field, but rather attempts to prepare us to be generalists across a broad spectrum so that we can employ ourselves in most professions.

        The testing of architects for licensure is another issue I have, but that's something entirely different from this topic. Let's just say for now that I know or have met plenty of people who are amazing designers, know all the ins-and-outs of buildings, and have a vast knowledge that aren't licensed, and yet, they aren't allowed to practice architecture. Experience can out perform book smarts.
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    May 17 2013: Neither is more important than the other. It depends on the task and the specific situation. Experience is very important; but education does no good if it does not enrich the individual to think outside the box.
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      May 18 2013: I agree Feyisayo. A person could spend a lifetime with formal education and not assimilate or apply informaion. A person could have a lifetime of wonderful experiences from which to learn, grow, evolve, and not assimilate or apply the information. It depends on the task, the situation, and HOW we use the information:>)
  • May 16 2013: Hi Kathi,
    I've noticed strange things happening with education and employment these days (in the Netherlands, where I live).

    A friend of mine graduated from the music conservatory, with the equivalent of a Masters Degree in music, and a qualification to teach. He has been teaching for over 20 years at the same music school, but recently was told that his diploma was no longer sufficient. He was required to take extra courses for a 'new' diploma (paid for by his employer, thankfully).
    So neither his experience, nor his education was sufficient for him to continue doing what he was doing! I thought it odd, almost like a money-making scheme... Since when are internationally-recognized diplomas suddenly no longer adequate?

    In my personal situation, I am a self-taught professional. What I lack in education, I make up for in experience. In fact, I have learned more from hands-on experience than I could ever have learned in a classroom. Fortunately, I am able to perform my skill without the need for any papers. Perhaps, there is a difference in experience/education in creative professions, as opposed to technical/business/scientific professions?
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      May 18 2013: I think that the problem of teaching ourselves something is that we usually miss something, not every one misses something but it is really hard to not do it. I took guitar lessons when I was younger, I really loved guitar but I hated the "education system" so I just quit, and started to learn by myself, It was a great decision, I've learned so much over those 6 years teaching myself, but when I got into jazz band I could not keep it up with the songs and et cetera. Why? Because I missed something very important, musical theory, which I thought that was very boring, so even If I had a lot of experience, and played better than many of my peers, I did not have the same fast reaction to a piece of paper that had weird symbolism as they did. So I think that the fact that you are required to have a degree is to make sure that people do not miss stuff like I did.
      • May 18 2013: I couldn't agree more, Pablo.
        I teach voice, and try to make music theory as fun as possible, which it truly can be!!! I guise my students in coming up with their up with voice exercises based on tonal scales, for example, which motivates them not only to practice, but to remember the theory!
        Music theory is, besides music itself, the language musicians speak. You need to speak that language in order to communicate at a professional level, I agree.
        As I said, I am self-taught, and found the motivation to learn theory on my own. I think if music theory were to be taught differently, more people would persist. I know too many potentially wonderful musicians who share your story, Pablo...
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          May 18 2013: Do you teach kids? If you teach kids I am glad to know that you are not letting them follow the same path that I did! many people see me just as a lazy kid, but the fact is that today I am trying to put my theory knowledge on the same level of my skills, something that I did not do before because the "magic" of musical theory was killed by a teacher who did not do his job very well (or he did, but not in a captivating way for me), and as a 9 years old kid, I just decided that I did not need that, and quit! After a year I started to play on my own pace and playing what I found interesting, and as I saw my progress I thought more and more that I really didn't need the "written stuff", but as soon as I started to play in group I noticed that the naive stereotype that I created in my head as a kid held me back for many many years.

          Looking back to my bad experience, I think that teachers should innovate more, not just in the music section, but everywhere. They should ask what they students want to learn about instead of just going with a schedule that they programmed hundreds of years ago. I never enjoyed when the teacher told me that I had to play "Happy birthday", or "The Star Wars theme", I believe that everything is more interesting when you put a little bit of yourself in it and let people adapt to their taste.
          That's why android platform is more successful than IOS (just kidding).

          Anyway, I think if I had a teacher like you I would be a different musician today, make sure that your students never fall in the monotonicity gap!

          Cheers, Pablo.
      • May 20 2013: Pablo, I couldn't agree more!!
        I just replied to your comment on another conversation, about storytelling, Actually, a good teacher is a good storyteller! Like you said, all a good presenter really needs is passion, and having passion for what you're teaching is in my opinion, perhaps even more important than the knowledge.
        It is such a shame that your experience with music theory was so negative. It can truly be fun and exciting! I am working with a student now, who wants to write music. I can see by his excitement, when he understands how the theory can be put into practice, and how the song can come together! He takes the song we work on during the lessons to his band, who then write out the notes so they can play it together. It is immediately a successful situation, one everyone can participate in and enjoy!

        Thank you so much for your kind words. But you have never lost your love for making music, regardless of whether you have the technical know-how or not! There are many many examples of well-known, even legendary musicians who can't read a single note. Does the name Chet Baker mean anything to you, for example? ;)
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    May 15 2013: Years of experience may be indicative of education or how much you really know. However, education is not indicative of experience.

    Education and experience together can mean the world to you. Each of them alone will help you gain the other.

    Experience will tell you how important education is. Education will help you gain that experience.
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    May 18 2013: Education is a very important measure used to determine a person's capability. But it is also very bad, because you will never really know how to do something until you start putting your hands on it and start doing it! Years of experience on the other hand are both literal and experience combined.

    For example, I am a Brazilian, and I lived in Brazil for 15 years before I came to the U.S as an exchange student, but I took English classes since I was 5. I have a International degree (not a Bachelor's degree) in English, and scored 101 points out of 120 in a TOEFL exam. And as soon as I arrived in the U.S and started "living" the English language, I did not know how to use it, my accent was bad, I had to think for a while before I spoke. So what happened to all the knowledge that I acquired over all those years? I don't really know, it took me around 7 months to become fluent in English.
    Could I have learned English without having all those years of education? Probably, but I also recognize that as soon as a put the pieces together (education and experience) it became a perfect gear box. And as I just told you, I did not really master the English language until I became experienced on it.

    I believe that the major factor of determining someone's skill level should be the experience, because education is, at least on a foreign language section, just an aid to what is really going to matter.
  • May 18 2013: what do'level of education and years of experience' for?
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    May 17 2013: G'day Kathi

    Seen as you said (or) I would say experience by far. Just the other day someone came up to me & told me what three university educated people told him to do at work in regards to reassembling a peace of equipment, all three were wrong, he knew this & did it he's way anyway with success. I have heard of this so often these days it's not funny anymore & in actual fact this is what's probably helping in sending this country broke, not enough real experience.

  • May 16 2013: Both the better we are the better we are.
  • May 16 2013: Interesting aside to this conversation - I was listening to a TEDradio hour podcast on Itunes from Friday, May 3rd that addresses interests aspects of this debate. Take a listen!
  • May 16 2013: An education today trains you to be receptive to the innuendo of tomorrow. Most jobs can be taught to anyone of average intelligence in a short period of time, depending on a persons abilities and desire. How much of your education is aimed directly at your job and for how long?

    You won't be able to reply to me, because like schools, Teds innuendo is all to obvious for those that can think beyond a copy and paste education. Ted like any other controlling agent, discriminates in favor of mediocrity, as that favors Ted.

    Real intelligence is not wanted in society, unless controlled by controlling agents, that promote, censor and take from them.

    Ted censors me a lot. Ted does not allow a reply button for me, because Ted promotes mediocrity, for its own sake and not that of learning.

    Ted refuses challenges, because they aren't smart enough to think for themselves. They were not taught to think for themselves. The school systems don't teach such, so they can't be blamed.
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    May 16 2013: Hi Kathi

    This is a money saving ploy, my wife is a 60yr old Radiographer & she was downgraded for this reason.
    It seems fashionable to recruit new graduates & give them fairly powerful positions with the hope of their input saving money. Where I work, this has been a bit of a disaster.
    Where analytical skills are required I would go for the graduates. Where common sense & experience are concerned, go for the olde, experienced candidate. Above both I would rate personality & flexibility. People who are naturally happy at work, and willing to learn, get ahead of the rest in my book.

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    • May 16 2013: I fully understand the point. But I would also like to mention that I know many with work experience and no education, wqhile at the same time, I know many with a Ph.D. who are dumb as rocks.
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    May 15 2013: Your level of education comes from experience. They go hand in hand. But as i always say, you will never be fully educated, there is always something new to learn.