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The value of a university degree

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University degrees are still a prerequisite for many jobs but the key is to mix study with experience in order to avoid becoming over-qualified.

Accountancy, life sciences, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) jobs are examples where degrees, and even further professional qualifications, remain relevant. In these industries employers continue to ask for degree-qualified candidates since they value the solid technical foundation such graduates possess.

In other fields, such as legal, professionals simply can't practice without a university degree, which explains why employers looking for legal talent continue to request academic transcripts.

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But experience counts too. University students who undertake professional work experience during their semester breaks stand out when they graduate and enter the job market. Even a few weeks gives a graduate an advantage over others who lack such experience.

Relevant experience is even more important for those considering an MBA or further qualifications immediately following the completion of their degree. If you want to undertake such study, our advice is to wait and gain a solid career history first. Otherwise you risk becoming too academically qualified without the relevant commercial acumen and experience to make the additional study pay off in practice.

On the other side of the coin, employers in industries such as construction, property, sales or procurement find that relevant work experience is at least as important, sometimes even more so, than a degree.

Apprenticeships are another option, especially in industries such as construction and property.

Interestingly, while technological advances have removed many of the career opportunities for which apprentices would qualify - just think of the agriculture and manufacturing jobs now performed by robots and machines not people - these same threats can also be seen as an opportunity to train a more highly-skilled apprentice who learns more sophisticated expertise in their chosen profession.

This would allow organisations to future-proof their skills pipeline thanks to a structured training and development program.

Jane McNeill, Director of recruiting experts Hays

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