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How will we Manage without degrees?

Management is a skill and a great example of nature and nurture coming together as one. In PR, there’s no way to skip straight to management. It’s vocational enough that you simply can’t start delegating without the proper understanding of what you’re asking of people, what you expect from them and, as much as anything, experiencing good and bad management yourself.

But in recent years, other industries have pushed forward with a dynamic that ignores this – the graduate trainee scheme. The idea of these is that if you bring in talent with allegedly great potential and fast track it, you make sure the cream of the crop gets to where it’s needed in your business as quickly as possible.

Universally unqualified?

The only catch is, it’s rarely university smarts that have reliably indicated the highest potential individuals out there. Hoards of “under-qualified” success stories strut through the FTSE, their powers of invention and determined hard work speaking volumes – and often with extra challenges along the way (what’s with all the talented dyslexics in the world?!)

But famously, many have worked their way up from the bottom, spending longer in those lower rungs and sometimes even returning to that vantage point where possible to inform their understanding of managing their business.

Good management takes time

With this in mind, and university fees skyrocketing, perhaps there will be a silver lining to more people picking alternate routes through life and skipping the graduate schemes. Perhaps high calibre students will forge their own path, spending a more natural amount of time at lower levels of organisations before they leap to management.

I’d like to think that as a result, there could be a revival of management culture embodied by those that succeeded because of their knowledge and first hand experience of what makes the business tick.

What comes next?

Call me naive but I’d say understanding this shift and how to nurture those who forgo the university system should be a challenge that more businesses keep their eye on over the coming years.

The biggest question is whether current managers, themselves a product of the old paradigm, will know where to look.

Picture credit

By Max Tatton-Brown

Max Tatton-Brown is founder and MD of Augur, and has written for publications including the Guardian, Sifted and TechCrunch.

3 replies on “How will we Manage without degrees?”

Great post Max and a standpoint I wholeheartedly agree with. Ok, I’m biased – not a degree on my record anywhere, but yes, ‘Graduate Management Schemes’ are a joke. We’re just not all made to be managers, and as you say, sometimes brilliance in leadership often comes from home grown.I see it from a recruiter standpoint of course, too. Too many Grads who just demean the brilliant Lawyers, Doctors, Surgeons, etc. Degrees in management just mean nothing. And people just aren’t recruiting grads like they used to. I wrote about this after last years riots : hope there is a way that an apprenticeship scheme like YTS scheme can be rediscovered, and get more people training at 16 to 18, rather than being lost and disappointed at 21 or 22. 

Good post mate – as a director with no degree I do wonder whether I could have got where I am any quicker if I had stuck it out at university. Probably not. For me it came down to the fact that after two years of sixth form and a first year at university I just didn’t enjoy studying any more – in fact I hated it. I actually view my year at uni as the only wasted year in my post-school life as I could have got stuck into work a year earlier! Perhaps I was a little lucky though and found somewhere that didn’t necessarily require a degree to warrant a chance. My school was particularly proud of its university entrance percentage and not going to university was never an option. While careers advice at school is notoriously bad, perhaps there is more that can be done at age 17 to show kids the choices out there…they are probably already doing it but it wasn’t available “in my day” (groans, stretches out achey back and hobbles to put the cocoa on) 😉

Thanks for the comments guys – interesting that you hit on getting lucky and finding somewhere that doesn’t necessarily require a degree Matt.

I’m a little obsessed with recruitment and how you identify and bring in the best possible talent since it makes such a difference to any business. Such a challenge to work out how you reach the really good non-degree people and where they spend their time without wasting tons of your own on the no-hopers.

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