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The importance of practical education and professional experience in securing roles

student painting with virtual reality headset on
(Image credit: Image Credit: Billetto Editorial / Unsplash)

A significant talking point over the last few years has been dedicated to millennials and their inability to fit in at their workplace. Labelled as ‘lazy’ and ‘self-entitled’, there seems to be a huge stigma surrounding younger people arriving into new jobs; and while many have questioned why, one very plainly obvious reason is that they’re simply not used to working.

Of course, over the course of a few years (maybe even months) this changes, and once integrated properly, millennials become a part of the furniture in offices, team meetings, and even in the staff kitchen. However, that transitional problem still exists - and there’s an easy solution that can help the youth hit the ground running as soon as they’re ready to enter the world of work: experience.

As Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, so brilliantly phrased it (opens in new tab), “education is the engine of our economy, it is the foundation of our culture, and it’s an essential preparation for adult life,” - so how can students be best prepared for the working world when all they’ve ever known is the six hour school days, broadly filled with English, Maths, Science and History (among others)? Or even beyond that, when they’re only tasked with minimum contact hours whilst studying at university?

Formal education plays a major role in preparing youth for life after school, laying the foundations by handing the explicit knowledge required - the ‘know-what’. But it is becoming a heavily realised fact that many are lacking the ‘know-how’. This tacit knowledge is key for the transitional phase between education and employment, and the need to bridge it becomes increasingly clearer as more and more companies, businesses and journalists fill the population’s collective heads with the idea that the youth are poor workers.

Fortunately, employers are clocking on to the need for experience in graduates ahead of securing full time roles. In fact, a survey (opens in new tab) by recruitment specialists Universum found that 58 percent of leading employers value work experience amongst graduates, more than grades.

Practical education

It starts early. You can’t learn to ride a bike in a classroom, and while academic studies are vital, the youth need experience outside of school - be it practical experiments in a chemistry lab or field trips to the Natural History Museum. Research reaffirms (opens in new tab) the belief that practical education boosts a student’s self-esteem, knowledge and skills (both educationally and on the outside world), and enhances their transition into working life.

With the competition for jobs increasing, employers are now looking to hiring candidates who can demonstrate their skills rather than reeling off a list of empty, theoretical qualifications.

Graduate job applications continue to rise, and the need to stand out from the pack grows with it. The need for more relevant and targeted education is very clear to see. With a system in place that helps students prepare for life after education, they receive a better idea of what it is they want their future to hold, it saves valuable time and money, and above all, that extra training and preparation makes a student more appealing to business and gives more stability in the hiring process.

This practical education fixes the growing stigma surrounding graduates that claims they don’t know what they want coming out of university. Instead, they take the initiative before finishing their studies to create an assured vision of what they want - hugely beneficial to both themselves and their employer.

Professional experience

According to research conducted by HighFliers (opens in new tab), one third of employers will flatly refuse graduate applications that don’t have at least a year’s worth of work experience under their belts coming out of higher education. In fact, Martin Birchall, Managing Director of HighFliers Research has claimed that (opens in new tab) work experience is no longer an optional extra for students - it is a must have.

As mentioned, graduates coming into work without that previous experience aren’t accustomed to how they should be conducting themselves on a professional level, nor are they aware of specific responsibilities sitting on their shoulders. Having that experience helps to build that required attitude - and can go a long way to shrugging off the perception that Millennials are the self-entitled, lazy workers that many would have you believe.

Professional experience is more than being able to type out emails to a client, make tea for the entire office or effectively manage the day-to-day tasks of work life without someone peering over your shoulder for every 20 minutes. Professional experience integrates theory and practice; it is the midway point between theory and practice.

It is all well and good being able to reel off your nine times tables in a classroom, but it is another to be able to effectively implement that knowledge into your future career, and that is one central component that not enough students realise when they’re thinking about taking the leap into the 9 to 5 business world.

This process of work is attractive to all kinds of industries. Businesses aren’t so focused on the fancy degree that you arrive with - that will only help qualify you for the job application. They want the characteristics, personality, and pragmatic ability of someone experienced in their chosen field, and that can only come through experience.

Practical education and professional experience go hand in hand with each other in bridging the gap between education and employment. Companies want people that have gone the extra mile, and who have taken that initiative in a proactive desire to become the most successful version of themselves during their career; and it all starts before you have even finished your degree.

Think about it from an employer’s perspective: why would a company spend both time and money in training an employee who might, upon completion of the training, decide that they no longer want that line of work? Or even worse, they leave for another company?

Don’t become just another application in the pile, give yourself the advantage.

Further reading

Learn how technology jobs are hoping to lead the employment bounceback (opens in new tab); how it's time to close the gap between employment opportunity and need (opens in new tab); why project-based employment models benefit tech businesses and individuals alike (opens in new tab); what home-schooling children can teach us about security awareness (opens in new tab); how much of the UK workforce feels it's lacking in the skills game (opens in new tab); and how software firms have a duty to pass on technical skills (opens in new tab).

William is the CEO of Amplify and has over a decade of institutional trading experience. He takes the responsibility of leading the risk management team.