When will qualities count for more than qualifications?

I regularly apply for, and sometimes get, appointments on European projects. In pretty well all cases the first requirement they specify is a certain academic qualification in a certain discipline.

This equally applies to many jobs in the private sector, where an academic qualification is considered to be the primary qualifying parameter. But should we not be looking much farther than that in making selections?

Even when I was working for a large multi-national, I considered that a degree told me two main things. Firstly, it implied that the candidate had an IQ that was certainly above room temperature. Secondly, it showed that the candidate had the ability to learn, often independently of tutors.

However, a degree in computer science would certainly not guarantee that the person would be good at marketing in that industry, and may actually mean that they were likely to prefer sitting at a computer.

Equally importantly, we live in a world where things are changing at an increasingly fast rate. No one can predict what jobs and academic skills will be required in five years time, so why do we persist in putting academic achievement at the top of the requirements list?

In my own case, my qualification was in mathematics and I was trained to teach that subject. And yet, in a career that has spanned 50 years, only 6 of them were as a mathematics teacher, and none of the other 46 years required me to use things like differential calculus, algebra or applied mathematics. Indeed, I would suggest that I have rarely, if ever, used mathematics past my 16-year-old level in any job.

It is fair to say that proof of any academic qualification has never been required in any one of the dozen or so paid or voluntary roles that I have undertaken since I qualified. Only EU projects have asked for both academic qualifications and proof.

So, how do I keep getting asked to do jobs that clearly do not fit with my original qualifications? Strangely, it is my personal qualities and other experiences that seem to win through.

Over the last month I have been asked to consider two roles that have little to do with my main job roles from the last fifty years. However, in both cases, I was able to adapt my experiences in other situations to be able to demonstrate that I could achieve in these new situations.

What I could demonstrate at interview was an enthusiasm for the task, an understanding of the requirements of the interviewer, a proposed way forward that would demonstrate my ability and a clear demonstration of my ability to change and adapt to new situations.

I still believe that a sound knowledge base is essential, but that it should be supplemented by ensuring that those other qualities are developed. This means that curricular cannot and should not be predictable any more than the world is where they will have to survive.

Having one right answer is easier to mark, but giving a student more marks if they chose the route that the teacher deems best is not the way forward. One could argue that more marks should be awarded if an alternative route to the solution is found!

In the past people would argue that progress would largely affect the lower level jobs. That is no longer true. In the next five years AI and robotics, along with other emerging technologies, will begin to affect bankers, lawyers and accountants amongst others.

If we do not start interviewing for skills like creativity, adaptability and the ability to embrace change, then we will end up with a faster and faster round of hire, fire and replace. In other words, we need entrepreneurs in established businesses; not just as people to start new businesses.

Hiring in the future needs to look at evidence of the qualities to deal with the fast changing world, and to see the degree as a check and balance rather than the primary reason to hire.

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