In modern workplaces, it is common to find workmates debating what is better between education and experience. It is an argument that has repeatedly pitted old-timers and the dewy-eyed fresh graduates.
Naturally, the old timers will say they are more valuable because they are more skilled at their jobs since they know the system in which they are operating better than everyone else.
The more educated and usually less experienced types would say technical and conceptual skills gained from their academic training make them better at driving change with a lower margin of error.
Arguing whether education or experience is more important is rather simplistic and belies the complex nature of the reward systems in modern organisations. In a functional and well-run organisation, employers are rewarded based on their demonstrable skills.
Above all else, employers prefer employees who can add value to their services and/or products. Ergo, people who can perform according to the needs of the organisation are bound to be more valuable to it.
A higher level of education and experience can be the source of that skill, but it does not guarantee it. When people have a higher education, the assumption is that they are more skilled than those with lower levels of education.
Likewise, employees who have worked longer for the organisation are assumed to be more adept at doing their jobs within that system than the intern or fresh graduate who joined a few months ago.
What really matters is the capacity to learn new skills. The ability to learn, unlearn and relearn skills and adapt to a dynamic work environment ultimately sets apart quality employees from the rest.
A college graduate who joins the job market with no marketable skills is about as useful as an employee who has not learnt any new skills from their years of service. This is where employees on both sides of the divide miss the point.
The trick for the management team, especially the line managers and the human resource, is to develop a criterion that will allow each member of staff to be rewarded depending on the value they bring to the organisation.
This is where the root of the problem lies. Most organisations do not have clear reward systems. That is why these debates usually resurface when it is time to promote individuals within the system, particularly when the promotion is tied to a higher salary and improved benefits.
In an ideal organisation, human resources should have clear structures on how people get promoted. For example, a company can make a deliberate policy to promote individuals by a grade or notch depending on years of service and whether they upgraded their academic qualifications.
Of course, the grades where the people are being promoted into should have clear key performance indicators that will be used to determine whether the individual is a good fit for the role or not. The key metric should be whether the individual can perform.
If the reward system is arbitrary, it will lead to demotivating employees, underperformance or worse, high turn-over. Employees do not stay where they feel they are undervalued and underappreciated.
That loyal employer who has dedicated their life to working for one organisation, learning the system and finding ways of optimising performance will lose interest if you bring an “educated” head who keeps going back to them to consult on how to work in that environment.
Likewise, the graduates with higher-level technical competencies will lose interest if they are not fairly compensated for the work they bring to the table.
If a fresh graduate demonstrates high-level skills but is not fairly compensated, they will turn their attention to employers or enterprises that they feel will offer a better package. They become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Employers like to say they only pay depending on demonstrated value, but sometimes forget to honour the promise for fair value afterwards. No employee will cherish doing specialist work for an artisan’s wage.
One thing every employee and employer should understand is that labour is a transaction. Employees should be paid based on demonstrated skills. If people, whether they are experienced, educated or both demonstrate high-level work, they should be compensated at that level.
When that is clear in the organisation, people focus on the work.