The great debate: Experience vs qualification

To be a competent manager in the 21st century, you need to have high doses of both education and experience, says Elmarie Strydom, academic head of undergraduate programmes at Regenesys Business School.

Managers form a critical link in the value chain of any business, in service, sales or distribution. They increase competitiveness and drive teams and business units to meet business goals. They are the pivot around which both the planning and execution of business strategy revolves. It follows that a business is only as good as its managers. Managers’ scope of thinking and calibre of skills are undeniably dominant factors in the performance of any organisation and at all levels.

So what does it take to become an exceptional manager?

In the 21st century workplace, higher education is playing an increasingly important role vis-à-vis experience when it comes to creating a successful career path, building sustainable business models and staying abreast of technological innovations.

Experience alone is no longer enough to drive efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace. Nowadays, managers must have an academic or tertiary qualification as this cultivates critical thinking and problem-solving through the application of different theories to workplace-related challenges.

The value of education cannot be overstated. No matter what environment or sector, well-educated managers are needed to create competent businesses that can compete locally and on an international level.

All too often unqualified managers are ineffective as all their skills are experience based. Their thinking is confined to what they have learned on the job. Therefore, their problem solving and critical thinking abilities are limited. What they know is based on what they have experienced and nothing else.

In terms of participation of black South Africans in management positions, there are some real challenges. For instance, black South Africans own less than a quarter of the shares on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and 73% of top managers in the country are white. Although some progress has been made, the battle ahead remains a real one that needs sustainable solutions says Strydom.

The reality is that the previous education system provided different standards of education for black and white South Africans, and as a result the country has managers that have years of experience but no proper formal qualification. They may hold positions for which they are practically competent but not formally qualified due to historical factors.

Adcorp’s most recent Employment Index survey reveals that the categories suffering the greatest skilled shortages include senior management positions, with as many as some 829,800 unfilled positions for high-skilled workers across a wide range of occupations in South Africa, resulting from the fact that there aren’t people with the right skills, experience and qualification to match the vacant positions.

“We have found that once individuals are exposed to post-school education, they acknowledge the positive impact of a formal qualification and the impact it has on their attitude and approach to doing things,” says Strydom. “It is without a doubt that tertiary education is a critical component in the development of effective, forward thinking leaders who will drive efficiencies and organisations, create motivated teams, and who work effectively to contribute to organisational and GDP growth.”