Both academic qualifications and workplace experiences have an important role in employee development. But how can universities and companies work together to ensure learning objectives are aligned – making the transition between academic and corporate life easier? Akankasha Dewan speaks with Carolyn Moore, regional HR director at JWT.In recent years, the value of degrees and education in the workplace has come under scrutiny. While graduating from college is still important, the recruiting industry has witnessed a plethora of reports which clearly state that skills are increasingly trumping degrees in companies worldwide.
For example, according to the Q2 2014 Employment Confidence Survey by Glassdoor, 72% of employees stated they believed specialised training to acquire specific skills was more valuable than a degree. In addition, 74% believed their bosses valued work experience and related skills more than education when evaluating job candidates.
Understanding the difference between academic and corporate learning
Carolyn Moore, regional HR director at JWT, suggests this shift in thinking is mainly because of the increasing relevance and importance of skills which employees normally acquire outside of an academic setting.
“Companies like ours, we don’t just want someone who just locks themselves up in a room and who has achieved good grades,” she says.
“That is one element, but we also want to see someone who has done extra curricular activities. Because there’s leadership, learning and creative skills involved in those.
“This is actually true, but not only for creative companies. I struggle to think of many environments where that can’t be applied, where critical thinking isn’t a core element of career success.”
For bosses, she suggests the growing popularity of employees having workplace experience also stems from the fact universities are mainly encouraging linear and rigid forms of learning among students.
Universities still very much have their place, but I think the main challenge is, moving forward.
“From being institutions of learning, and research, and experience, they have become businesses in themselves. They get the most money from churning out business graduates and marketing graduates. But now businesses have realised their employees are not innovating as much, and there is some realisation that this is because universities have taught graduates that this is the one way of doing business.”
To overcome this gap between what companies want and what universities provide, Moore stresses the importance of universities and organisations working together and aligning their teaching and learning strategies.
This is especially because even though workplace learning and experience are gaining credence among recruiting managers, the importance of academic degrees cannot be completely overlooked altogether.
“Universities still very much have their place, but I think the main challenge is, moving forward,” she says.
JWT’s Helen Lansdowne Resor Scholarship
“Higher education and businesses have to work together. Organisations have to talk to universities about what is still relevant,” Moore says.
“One of the things we’re doing is that we’ve implemented a scholarship worldwide called the Helen Lansdowne Resor Scholarship. She was the first ever copywriter in the advertising industry in the world. She was employed by JWT.”
Moore explains the fundamental part of the scholarship is that it sponsors women creatives. Additionally, the sponsored candidate can hail from any kind of background, and not necessarily have undertaken a degree related to marketing or advertising. The sole requirement such candidates need to display is their interest in becoming advertising creatives.
She further explains that for the scholarship, her organisation is working with several universities worldwide, including some in China and Japan, for the APAC region.
JWT also provides sponsorship of US$10,000 for the five-year scholarship.
“And I think this is really important because on one side, we’re supporting our creative conviction, and from the other, we’re looking at this from a diversity point of view. Because globally, only 3% of advertising creatives are women.
“We really feel strongly about building up the numbers, and about advertising being a very viable career for women. So this is one way I think businesses and HR can work with higher education institutions to develop graduates and to develop courses that are relevant to the business and to ensure we don’t get cookie-cutter graduates at the end.”
Higher education and businesses have to work together. Organisations have to talk to universities about what is still relevant.
“We also do sponsor some of our senior managers to get degrees. We have an association globally with Duke University.
“In fact, we send some of our employees to go and lecture in some universities around the world.”
Facilitating an effective working culture
She adds, however, that those staff who are inherently passionate about learning will eventually go on to pursue higher degrees with or without financial support from their companies.
“Employees who are passionate about learning will do it, whether they get the money paid for by their employer or not. And these are the types of people we really want and try to hire.”
She implies that what the companies can do actively, however, is to practise habits or implement policies which will facilitate a better learning environment for their employees, be it corporate or academic learning.
“I think some of the best things organisations can do to support people with their learning is to pour in the flexibility of firstly providing them with the time dedicated to their learning. Secondly, organisations can provide people with the flexibility for them to balance their workload against what their learning load is.
“The next most important thing is giving them the opportunity to apply it through projects in the job.”
She adds organisations should crucially pay attention to developing the capability or skill of learning in such projects and across divisions.
“The pathway to learning has to be one of enquiry and questioning and analysis and understanding there are different perspectives in the world. And that is very critical for creative companies like ours.”
Developing such a skill to learn should be done keeping in mind the different stages of learning the individual in question is in, to ensure his or her capability and capacity to learn is enhanced as much as possible, she suggests.
“In terms of tailoring learning to suit different generations, it’s not that necessary, but what you need to tailor to is that phase to which that person has developed their own capability to learn, and how you approach the content to what they’re trying to learn.
“There are very clear phases of learning, and you can tell which phase they are in. You can look at it at a macro level, in terms of their career development, and you can look at it from a micro level, in terms of a project and work through that.”