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Khaya Dlanga: Qualifications are not the be-all and end-all to employment

Khaya Dlanga

They are pieces of paper; they are not track records – they open doors but they do not truly reflect work experience and ability.

Education is the single greatest driving force behind some of the greatest innovations the world has seen. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

It might sound like I am contradicting myself here, but let me begin: Education is the single greatest weapon at our disposal to move people from poverty to wealth and good fortune.

Except for war – which gave rise to nuclear energy and even sent a man to the moon thanks to the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States – education is the single greatest driving force behind some of the greatest innovations the world has seen. Bridges, roads and so many other technological advancements have come about because of education.

In South Africa, the graduation rate among South Africa’s 23 public universities is 15%. These figures are from the 2013 department of higher education and training’s first annual statistical report, published this year, which looked at the “size and shape of post-school education and training in South Africa”.

This is not acceptable.

With these stats, how will we be able to sustain and grow our economy to levels that will end poverty?

High costs of education
One of the reasons some students don’t complete their studies is that they lack the financial resources to do so. The cost of an education is high and can be demotivating to otherwise ambitious people, although one could argue that if they were ambitious enough they would not let mere lack of funds restrain them from pursuing their studies.

I am a proponent of education and I think that every South African should get the best education they can. But my issue is the overreliance on qualification: If someone has a proven track record, they should not be held back simply because they don’t have the right qualification. When two people have the same level of experience and another has the added benefit of a qualification, the qualification should give them an edge.

But what happens when one person is more qualified but is just not as good at the job as the person without a qualification? After all, a qualification is a piece of paper; it is not a track record. It doesn’t reflect work experience and ability.

Finder’s keepers, losers weepers
An acquaintance spoke to me about how she was overlooked for a promotion at work over a year ago and another colleague, who had an MBA, was given the role instead. She felt that although she did not have the qualification, she had contributed more to the growth of her department and the increasing importance of her department within the company. She was unhappy, so she left and looked elsewhere and was snapped up by a competitor who had seen her contribution not only to the company, but to the industry as whole.

Today, the company she now works for has taken away market share from her previous organisation because of the innovations she continues to bring about.

In the words of Sudhakar Reddy Kalathuru, a director at the Galaxy Management Institute in India: “Qualification speaks about the knowledge acquired by the students, but employers look at other qualities along with your degree: attitude, aptitude, abilities, skills and knowledge.”

India has found that only 10% of its MBAs are employable. Kalathuru questions the overreliance of students on qualification alone – instead of getting themselves industry-ready. That for me is the most fundamental issue in any organisation.

Some companies or hiring managers may hinder the progress of their companies because of the overreliance on the level of higher education one has been able to attain.

It comes down to thinking
In almost any career, there is a level of thinking that is required, and most of the time it is about solving problems, how to gain market share, how to become more profitable, how to motivate your staff and so on.

However, it is difficult to prove that one has these skills without a qualification. Qualifications open doors. As they should.

Some people have been able to be pioneers in their fields without having needed the qualifications but that has not been easy.

Yes, they have had to work their asses off, they are not always chief executives such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.

Many like to cite these gentlemen on how one can simply drop out and then do extremely well. What people forget is that most people who decide to drop out don’t fare so well.

Still, the overreliance on qualification has caused people who are able, who have the drive to excel, to be driven away because of insecure managers who are qualified and believe that a person who doesn’t have the same qualification doesn’t deserve to sit at the same table with them.

Leading from the front
Good managers, who are leaders, don’t allow themselves to be restrained by that.

But should one become, for example, a doctor simply because they are passionate about medicine and curing the sick? Not at all. There are certain sectors where I strongly believe that one’s passion and ability may not be enough to get to perform certain kinds of work.

All in all, I strongly believe in education, but I also believe in self-education in order to better one’s contribution to an organisation and society.

Doors should not be closed on people who don’t have the right qualifications but have the ability, will and drive to thrive.

I may not be qualified to do everything, but I will not let this stop me from doing anything.


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