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  • Maria Cristina Brodu

Why in the UK most of the postgraduate careers are unrelated to university studies, but require them

In the UK there are many postgraduate careers one can start with all the possible university degrees, even if in other countries the same require specific university majors. However, also some British natives who work in talent sourcing and career coaching are unfamiliar with this.

To provide an example that illustrate the extent of this misinformation about graduate (and postgraduate) careers possibilities in the UK, I will refer to a recent (recorded) conversation that I had with a “career coach for jobs above £50k in the UK", who I was convinced to meet:

this British "career coach" was so unfamiliar with the possibility of "graduate employment schemes to train on the job", that every time I tried to explain her what they were, she kept asking me if I was talking about "apprenticeships" (which are basic clerical trainings on the job for school leavers, or those without education above primary school, GSAS or A-levels).

When I tried to explain to her: “I can actually start a law career with a graduate scheme, and train as a solicitor, applying without a law degree”, her reply was - for 4 times - “you tell me you want to start to study law”. She was unable to get the concept of training schemes (full disclosure: if one is hired, studies law, but there's no need of law studies before to be hired).

No surprise then that in the rest of the world it is even more confusing what careers one can have in the UK with all the possible university majors. Even less surprising is that these same people confuse “all kind of university degrees” with “no need of university degree at all"

(Most often in fact they erroneously believe that university is for "memorising knowledge"!).

However, tertiary studies are necessary for graduate careers, because these careers require critical thinking, problem solving, drive, communication and logic to carry out complex work independently, which is reviewed by some higher management before being sent to a client. These skills are developed sufficiently for a graduate career only through tertiary education.

Graduate jobs and careers are in fact different from those for whom only completed GSAS or A-Levels, which are mostly clerical, repetitive, task oriented, based on following checklists or 'step by step' instructions about what to do and how. (However some natives still down value highly educated foreigners by viewing them suitable only for low skilled school leavers jobs).

2. Human Resources (HR) In HR one is responsible for helping with employee-related issues, such as recruitment, payroll, employment policies and benefits. Graduates usually start off in HR administrator or HR assistant jobs. £17K-£26K ($21K-$32K). 3. Accountancy A career in accountancy requires strong numeracy skills and an analytical mind. To become qualified, one must complete the Certified Public Account CPA exam (paid by the employer). £18K-£26K ($22K-$32K) 4. Marketing and advertising This career requires creativity and commitment, and one can start as a copywriter, marketing executive, media planner, or social media manager. It is advisable to build a portfolio of own relevant work. £23K-27K ($29K-$34K) 5. Investment banking In this career one provides a range of financial services to companies, governments, institutions and individuals. It requires numerical, analytical and project management skills, working under pressure. £32K-43K ($41K-54K) 6. Teaching To become a teacher one needs to complete a postgraduate teacher training course to qualify. Skills include confidence, patience, strong communication skills, organization and creativity. £23K-26K ($29K-$33K) 7. Public relations (PR) PR is all about managing your client’s reputation. Competencies include exceptional relationship building skills, strong written and verbal communication skills and good organizational skills. £18-£20K ($22-$25K) 8. Hospitality and travel management In hospitality one needs excellent communication skills, language skills, international work experience. £20K-23K ($25K-$29K) 9. Sales Almost all companies require salespeople. A salesperson needs to be confident and enthusiastic, as well as being great at networking. £18K-£22K ($22K-$28K) 10. Supply chain and logistics This is a job to oversee products from start to finish, liaising with suppliers constantly, remaining calm under pressure, demonstrating great communication skills. £26K-£28K ($33K-$36K)

Also commercial law is a career that can be started with all degrees. However, unlike all the other graduate careers listed above, if one is hired in a law graduate scheme, then has to study for a law degree (fully sponsored by the employer) before to practice as a solicitor.

Other UK routes into law, without a law degree are through apprenticeships, opened only to those who hold A-Levels but no tertiary studies, and to graduate foreigners. It takes several more years to qualify through this route (some firms lengthen it further with paralegal work).

Disclaimer: possible doesn’t mean certain. Graduate training scheme employments are conditional to being selected through lengthy hiring processes that hire about the 1-2% of applicants, and some likely unconscious bias can be inferred from cohort's characteristics:

for example, in the training scheme for which I was hired at EY in 2015, only the 2% circa out of more than 5,000 applicants where selected, and in what I recall, I was the only one in the 2 cohorts of my year to not have a degree from a UK university, and to almost double the age of the other female hires. Males age in my cohort was averagely higher, with some of them having had prior careers as myself. The almost entirety of the hires where born in the UK or the commonwealth, and only 2 where People Of Color, although none was African black: this reflected quite well into the dominant characteristics of the top leadership at the firm, at least within the performance improvement advisory consulting department of my graduate scheme. So it’s not easy, and the odds are higher for those who aren’t in privileged groups ... as it is for all the possible careers in the UK (maybe a coincidence: all Partners and Directors I reported to since 2006, where from the UK or commonwealth, except for 1 French Director).


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