Experience is frequently cited as a proxy for education when credentials are evaluated, but I recently encountered a question about turning the equivalency logic the other way around. Someone sought ideas for the number of work experience years that should be credited for scholastic degrees. Like, “if you have an Associates degree, you don't need any work experience.” I have have rarely seen that occur. Education tends to establish minimum primary boundaries for a hire qualification or states the entry threshold job evaluation element which is slightly modified by work experience requirement parameters: e.g.,
- High school diploma and six years experience or
- Associates degree plus four years experience or
- Bachelors degree and two years experience or
- Masters degree and no experience
In those illustrations, education is the fundamental prerequisite and the amount of work experience varies by the level of education possessed beyond the minimum schooling required. But how about generally assuming that a Master's degree equals two years of work experience? That is implied in my prior example. The education and experience must be relevant to be comparable, of course. Nevertheless, I would hesitate before decreeing that education may displace experience in hiring entry standards and compensation classifications.
Practical experience reduces the need for education more often than schooling trumps real-life application experience, I suspect. Positions that demand formal academic certifications or official licenses (i.e., MD, LLB, PE, CPA, RN) usually require passing a combination of essential qualification tests and demonstrated practical proficiency in addition to the established minimal educational foundation.
Perhaps replacing experience with relevant equivalent education is usually not emphasized or envisioned in company policies because it is so swiftly dismissed as illogical by top management. Most executives have learned the hard way that academic courses rarely do more than scratch the surface of actual work applications in certain fields. They are quick to squash any impulse to consider a PhD in Industrial Relations equivalent to six or eight years of experience negotiating labor union contracts. They might, however, hire a Finance PhD as a senior bookkeeper, even though most of that advanced education would not apply to enhance the PhD's value on that job as much as equal years of bookkeeping experience. If they gave the clerk with a doctorate a data entry job, s/he would have no right to expect to earn as much as a veteran peer who had performed that same job for a decade.
Conventional compensation practice says you pay according to the value of the output permitted by the work activity, not the skills of the incumbent. That typically means a wage based on the job assigned rather than the person's theoretical potential.
Once upon a time, I dealt with an inexperienced accounts receivable correspondence clerk who was denied pay status equivalent to someone with four years work experience writing collections letters. The new employee insisted that since she was hired out of college after completing a BA in English, that was worth 4 years of job-related experience writing collection letters. When I pointed out that her boss had already found her writing skills deficient, she indignantly replied that she got her degree for reading rather than for writing but her logic still applied. In her opinion, that degree automatically earned her 4 years of work experience equivalency. Enough said.
Schooling proves you can learn something well enough to pass a classroom test. Work demonstrates you can apply knowledge in a practical way. Some trade schools or Junior Colleges do offer useful courses similar to apprenticeships, but not many. I'm curious about what jobs might exist where experience considered necessary could possibly be waived by college education. It is usually the other way around precisely because academic knowledge does not become fully potent until leavened by actual work experience. Universities don't generally teach the frequently boring and generally narrow applications performed on jobs. No BSME can operate a computerized milling machine as well as a 5-year veteran CNC milling machine operator, for example.
But I could be wrong. What important exceptions am I missing?
E. James (Jim) Brennan is an independent compensation advisor with extensive total rewards experience, specializing in job evaluation, market pricing and pay budget distribution. After corporate HR jobs in manufacturing, he consulted to various industries throughout North America, became Senior Associate of pay survey software publisher ERI and returnied to consulting in 2015. A prolific writer (author of the Performance Management Workbook) and speaker, Jim gave expert witness testimony in many reasonable executive compensation cases and also serves on the Advisory Board of the Compensation and Benefits Review.
"Job Education Buttons" image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net