VIEW: Is a university degree a deal-breaker for business success?

The below is a guest post from Pip Meecham, Director of ProjectBox.

From a young age, our parents and teachers tell us to go to school and get an education. Then, to further that education by heading off to university and getting tertiary qualifications.

We’re repeatedly told education is the most important thing, that you need a university degree to ‘make it’ in the world, that regardless of your big dreams you need a degree to ‘fall back on’ (whatever that means), to have a career, to run a business, to be successful…

But I don’t think this is necessarily true. It certainly hasn’t been the case for me.

Despite never going to uni (or even finishing high school), I’ve built and continue to run an award-winning consulting business. I help business owners streamline their operations so they can work faster, better and smarter. I’ve made a niche for myself as a systemisation specialist and clients say I’m ‘faster than Google’.

The world has changed, and we need to change with it

We live in a very different world to our parents. The digital revolution has changed the way we work and study, and it’s opened up new opportunities and challenges that many of our parents could not even imagine. The business environment is rapidly changing, and we’re evolving and adapting with it.

In 2020, a degree isn’t a mandatory requirement for business success, and it’s far from a guarantee of one. According to the 2019 Future of Work report, job outcomes for university graduates have declined significantly over the past decade and graduates are more likely than ever to find themselves in jobs where their degree is under-utilised.

Employers are realising that a person’s life experience, skills and values can be more important than an expensive piece of paper displayed in a nice frame. In fact, many top firms including EY, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Google have gotten rid of their degree entry requirements, choosing to hire on merit instead of qualifications.

Of course, there are many professions where tertiary qualifications are crucial (medicine, legal and accounting to name a few), and many people who thrive in a university environment. But it’s not for everyone, and it’s important to remember that incredible careers can be built on a foundation of courage, determination, a willingness to learn, and finding the thing that makes you tick.

From high-school drop out to successful business owner

So, how did I go from high school drop-out to owning a six-figure consulting firm?

Slowly. It didn’t happen overnight, and I definitely didn’t leave school knowing I wanted to be a systemisation specialist!

I began by working in other people’s businesses, starting as a dress-up children’s entertainer in a play centre (yes, really). From there I moved into administrative roles and gradually worked my way into operations.

Over many years I worked in a huge range of industries. I continuously looked for ways to self-develop. I sought out opportunities to say ‘yes’ and step out of my comfort zone. Every single role, no matter how junior, gave me real-life work experience that I still draw on today, and with every role, I grew personally and professionally.

Yes, I made plenty of professional mistakes, but they were mistakes tertiary education wouldn’t have prepared me for anyway – most learning is done on the job. Each mistake was a chance to reflect, to learn and to further develop and strengthen my unique skill set.

Over time, I worked out what I was good at and what I loved to do, and I was able to package up all of my work experience and professional development and turn it into something sturdy enough to build a business on.

If you don’t feel like uni is for you…

That’s ok.

The digital world brings countless opportunities for learning and professional development, with more current and practical skills than you could learn in a university environment. Seek out learning opportunities everywhere. Work out what you’re good at and what makes you unique.

This all sounds fantastic, right? Don’t go to uni, just get out there and start making money and teach yourself some stuff along the way? But it’s not quite that easy – it takes a serious level of personal commitment to continuously learn and upskill in your own time. And, just like studying for a degree, it takes time and dedication to apply these learned skills to the professional world, to practice them over and over and turn them into something marketable.

Employers no longer make hiring decisions based on education alone and are instead turning to the ‘hire character, train skill’ methodology. They seek talent that meets internal culture requirements, business values, emotional intelligence and a commitment to learning and continuous improvement. 

So when people ask me if I believe a university degree is necessary for business success, I say no. Not one customer has ever asked me what my qualifications are. Instead, they trust the quality of my work, my positive testimonials from previous clients and my reputation.

If you’re curious, tenacious and willing to learn, you’ll find your way with or without a degree.


About the expert

Pip is a systemisation specialist with a love for all things systems, technology, processes and workflows. She is a lover of all things systems and tech and has earned the nickname ‘Faster than Google’ by her peers. She looks at the HOW in your business – how you do the things you do, then translates that to ensure your processes and workflows are optimised for efficiency and effectiveness, implementing tools and technology to help streamline your operations, with operating procedures that help you scale and build a business that can work without you.  


Image description: Black and white photo of Pip sitting by a windowsill smiling at the camera.