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Lived Experience vs. Education

I'm sure you heard this sentiment growing up; "you need to work hard at school so you can get into university and secure a good-paying job." Often, this message is drilled into us during adolescence, and many of us do just that. Then, at the ripe age of 18, with all our knowledge (I'm rolling my eyes, by the way), we choose a degree, spend years working toward the finish line, and rack up some serious student debt.

But it's ok because the promise of that high-paying job at the other end of the tunnel will make it all worth it, and we flock toward it like a shiny beacon of light. Well, studies from 2021 show that 1 in 4 unemployed Australians has a degree, and more graduates work in a different field to their major than those that do. Intern opportunities are becoming increasingly harder to come by; however, they are vital for getting your foot in the door, as education won't get you there alone.

Here lies the question, what is more critical; lived experience or education?

Of course, there is no black and white answer, and there are many areas of grey because I don't know about you, but I'd prefer my GP didn't bandage up a few mates and call themselves a doctor? However, excluding technical and specialised positions where you literally have someone's life in your hands, is formal education really all that important? Or, is the school of hard knocks more beneficial?


As someone with a degree and currently undertaking more study (as I wasn't happy with my first choice, shocker), there is undoubtedly a place for formal education, and these longstanding institutions impart invaluable knowledge and skills to their alumnus. The question is not whether education is useful or not; the question is, does it live up to its reigning prestige?

Where a graduate degree may have been a sure-fire way to job security in the past, they cease to be a guarantee of getting not only a job but a better-paying one. And with the cost of university rising, especially for international students and residents in countries such as America, the trade-off of the debt you acquire and that "great paying job" is moving further apart.

On the other hand, what does your degree really say about you? This traditional standard of being regarded for your degree is less effective as time goes on. Studies have shown that qualifications do little to prove an individual's effectiveness in the workplace. And if this is true, why do we continue to insist on qualifications, or you need not apply? Think of the talent being overlooked by dismissing such a large portion of the candidate pool.

Lived Experience

Funnily enough, my partner and I have Dads' who have similar jobs in slightly different industries, who have seen success. One thing they have in common; they are high school dropouts. Another thing they have in common, they were taken under the wing of a successful entrepreneur who saw potential in them. And, through years (in my dad's case, 30!) of loyalty and real-life experience in the field, they are in longstanding Senior Management positions.

It sounds funny, but for years growing up, I assumed my Dad had a degree, and it wasn't until I went to high school I found out he hadn't even sat his year 12 exams. I remember thinking, there is no way you could do that these days! You need a degree - it's not even a question. However, I am starting to change my tune.

Tech giants like Google, Tesla, and Netflix are among a growing number of major companies that don't require a degree to apply for or secure a job. Google has the best of the best workforce and is confident that if someone has the essential software engineering and project management skills, no matter how they gained those skills, they can apply.

But how do they do this? First, Google runs extensive interviews where candidates have ample opportunity to prove they belong - degree or not; if they have what it takes, they are in with a fighting chance. Secondly, they provide a plethora of training, courses, and information for their staff to grow and develop - they take it upon themselves to educate their employees.


This is a meaningful conversation that will evolve with time. With the discrepancies in university rates, lower accessibility to higher education for indigenous and low socio-economic groups, and this post-pandemic new way of working, there is more to be discovered here.

We talk a lot about inclusion and diversity, and I feel this is one step further to a truly non-bias workforce where we give people a fair chance, formally educated or not.

Signing off,

Claud x

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