Experience or certifications? What’s better for your career?
If you’re a student thinking about going to college or a professional looking to make a career change, you might be wondering whether you need some type of certification or if work experience is enough.
The truth is, there’s no cut and dry answer. For decades, it was universally accepted (in the U.S., at least) that earning a bachelor’s degree was a prerequisite for landing a good job. A growing number of students graduated from high school and continued straight on to college. Others worked for a number of years and then returned to college at the mid-career point, usually while still working fulltime.
However, over the past 20 years, earning a degree has become increasingly expensive. Tuition costs have risen at a much higher rate than wages, resulting in many students having to take out significant loans. As Farran Powell reports in the U.S. News article “10 Student Loan Facts College Grads Need to Know,” approximately 70 percent of students graduate with loans nowadays. Moreover, the average graduate holds more than $37,000 in debt!
In the early 2000s, the prospect of such high debt combined with the volatility of the job market prompted many Millennials to start seeking alternative routes to a career. This corresponded with the rise of online education such as university extension courses; online degrees; developer and design courses; and ongoing professional certifications in fields such as engineering, HR, and education. More recently, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provide free access to courses from a variety of educational institutes, including MIT and Wharton.
It’s also important to note that an increasing number of companies offer on the job training and apprenticeships, especially in STEM fields. By doing so, they’re investing in a loyal workforce that’s trained to meet their precise needs.
What all of this means is that in 2016, there are a multitude of avenues for you to gain knowledge and learn job skills. To find out what kind of qualifications and experience are required for the job you want, research the qualifications of professionals who are already doing that job. LinkedIn can provide a valuable resource to research education, training, and experience. You should also look at current job postings to see what employers are asking for.
If you do this, you should soon gain a good idea of the most accepted route to the profession you want. However, there’s one more factor to take into account: your preferred method of learning. If you prefer hands-on training and generally don’t do very well learning from books, then it’s probably better to look for an opportunity to learn on the job than to go to college. On the other hand, if you enjoy a formal educational setting and can handle the tuition fees, then college might be the right option for you.
Finally, keep in mind that a combination of experience and certifications is always the best way to get the career you want. A college degree alone is unlikely to get you in the door at any employer; you’ll need at least one internship and preferably a lot of part-time experience. And even then, you’ll need years of experience and demonstrable accomplishments to advance to a senior position.
Likewise, if you gain all your skills while working, it’s advisable to pursue professional certifications throughout the course of your career. Remember: when your skills are backed by accreditation, you become more valuable to employers.
Like this article? Sign up for the WorkWire Career Tips newsletter and get these articles via e-mail once per month.