Whether you’re just getting started on the career ladder, or have your eye on a promotion or career change, formal qualifications can help you reach goals and earn more.
Take Annie and Ashley for example. At the end of year 12, Annie heads off to university while her friend Ashley goes straight into work. Both paths are well-trodden ones, with recent figures showing around one-third of school leavers enter full-time employment and around one-third enrol in full-time study.
After years of sharing the ups and downs of secondary schooling, the lives of Annie and Ashley now look quite different. Ashley is enjoying the luxuries of earning a full-time income while Annie is spending much of her time (and any spare money) on education.
While the early days of their post-school lives look different, their longer-term stories are likely to look even more different. We’ve all heard the stories about wildly successful people who don’t have degrees – think Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Larry Ellison. But, for others, the lack of a university education can mean less earning capacity. According to various reports, If we fast forward to retirement, Annie, as a university graduate, could have potentially earned 40 per cent more than Ashley during her career.
Study more, earn more
This 40 per cent income differential for university graduates was reported after a review of several different research studies based on various ABS data sets.
The statistics are also quite clear when it comes to unemployment. While 80 per cent of people with a Bachelor’s degree or above are employed, only 67 per cent of people with Year 12 are employed and 44 per cent of those who list Year 11 or below as their highest educational level.
A degree can mean a foot in the door
Often, a degree can provide that critical ‘foot in the door’ – something that helps you stand out among other less qualified candidates and score that new job or opportunity.
Jane Mathews, membership and professional development director at The Communications Council, says having a degree in the advertising industry is considered a hygiene factor at entry level. ‘Most agencies won’t hire without one.’
And while, historically, most graduates in advertising agencies have degrees in marketing or communications, Jane says that agencies are open to any discipline.
‘To succeed in an advertising agency you have to be an articulate, original thinker and problem solver, and these qualities are not unique to comms graduates!’
In other situations, of course, a degree is a technical prerequisite. Courses for high-income fields, such as law, medicine and engineering, arm students with essential job-specific knowledge and skills. You won’t get anywhere near a career in these areas without a degree.
Ongoing study that aligns with your evolving career goals
While a Bachelor’s degree will help you get that initial foot in the door, it’s ‘only the tip of the iceberg,’ says Jane. ‘What got you to one level, won’t get you to the next.’
Targeted and relevant study combined with experience will help you continue to tick career goals and build your bank balance more quickly. It’s important, Jane says, to ‘undertake continuing professional development that is tailored, relevant and ideally taught by practitioners to ensure key learnings are instantly applicable.’
Postgraduate qualifications are another avenue for continuing learning. Compared to those with a Bachelor’s degree, male postgraduates can net an extra $120,000 on average in lifetime earnings, while female postgraduates scoop an extra $350,000 on average from the lifetime income pool.
To get both formal postgraduate qualifications and industry-relevant practical experience, many universities put an emphasis on the connection between academia and industry. Industry and community engagement is one such method to combine the two and gain valuable real-world experience. There are also PhD industry focus programs available that place students with an industry partner organisation. PhD students can then undertake a research project that addresses a real-world problem, whether in the private sector, government or with a not-for-profit organisation.
The keys to career progress: relevance, practicality and value
Formal qualifications, while valuable, won’t automatically translate to career satisfaction, pay rises or promotions. The first step in getting the most – career-wise – from your qualifications is to ensure the course is a good fit.
‘It is definitely up to the candidate or student to do some research to be sure that the qualification is meaningful and relevant for the goals they hope to achieve,’ Jane says.
Choosing the most useful course or program varies by industry, too. ‘For example, for someone looking to take on a C-suite position, then yes, an MBA or similar formal qualification would be advantageous. However, in the advertising industry, more often than not, practical, relevant courses are what boost people up to the next rank,’ Jane says.
The onus is also on you, the student, to show how your study translates in practice. To get rewards in the form of promotions and pay rises, you must add value to the business – and highlight that value with your employer.
Jane says, ‘A certain level of theory is important, but demonstrating creative problem solving, curiosity and identifying then delivering sustainable business growth is what will attract pay rises and promotions. The way to boost your earning potential in the advertising industry, for example, is by demonstrating your effectiveness, and value and making yourself indispensable.’
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