4C Associates‘ first debate of 2013, focused on the benefits of qualifications versus experience. Andrew Cox, Chairman of Advisory Board & Vice-President at International Institute for Advanced Purchasing & Supply, argued against the motion, whereas Tina Greer, Managing Partner at 4C Associates, debated for.
Effective Performance is not Dependent on Qualifications
Hiring managers agree that the key to selecting candidates, is focusing on those who are a good fit for a company’s culture and possess the base skills needed to perform. In this context, qualifications alone are a poor means of judging an individual’s potential to deliver value.
“For many of us what we studied at university is not a key part of our job description – I haven’t done any calculus since I graduated”
Effective performance is driven by a combination of key skills and knowledge. These include:
• Performance Management
• Technology and IM
• Strategic Sourcing and Category Management
• Procurement Strategy and Organisation Alignment
• Supplier Relationship Management (SRM)
As candidates with a matching set of qualifications are rare, companies need to focus on hiring raw talent which can be developed. An organisation needs to ensure its infrastructure is capable of bringing on board individuals able to adapt and take responsibility, whilst providing the tools to help them flourish.
“In my industry, the art of connecting with people is paramount to success”
Given the economic climate, cutting costs is a priority for the majority of leading companies. However, with many suppliers unable or unwilling to negotiate further price reductions, SRM is proving an increasingly important competency. By effectively collaborating with suppliers to achieve mutual benefits, 4C was able to cut costs by approximately eight per cent across its client base in 2012. This was made possible through the leveraging of experience and solid relationships.
To reinforce this point, of the 12 men to have walked on the moon all but one, were ex- boy scouts. These were all people able to think outside the box, selected for their ability to react to unforeseen situations in extreme conditions. Each of the astronauts on board the ill-fated Apollo 13, were also boy scots. Had they been from purely academic backgrounds, one wonders if they would have made it back to earth.
Effective Performance is Dependent on Qualifications
Qualifications refer to the elements that qualify a person to deliver effective results. Following this logic a qualified person is someone who knows the appropriate action to take in particular circumstances.
It is impossible to have previous experience of every situation you will encounter. Take an individual with 35 years’ experience in a single sector, but no external qualifications. He or she may well be equipped to deal with industry issues, but is not qualified to work outside these narrow confines. Training prepares people to be effective performers in a wide range of situations. It is rare for anyone to become “qualified” solely through experience.
“If you rely purely on experience, you will never know if alternative courses of action are available”
This is particularly relevant in a difficult economic climate where mistakes can prove extremely costly. Qualifications test an individual’s capacity to be effective and act as a guarantee of a person’s ability to perform. For this reason, a formal qualification is an extremely valuable benchmark for potential employers to asses.
“The training which we provide at IIAPS is similar to that given to an airline pilot – they cannot fly a plane until they have practiced in a simulated environment.”
In the majority of cases, appropriate training and subsequent qualifications will greatly improve the performance of any given individual. However, there will always be a select few individuals, who are intrinsically higher performing than others.
Through training an individual can be taught to deliver value in multiple environments and benefit from a range of transferable skills, which would otherwise not have been gained. The formal awarding of a qualification serves to quantify a person’s effectiveness.
One attendee argued that equating a qualified individual with a competent individual does not affect the shortcomings of prioritising qualifications over experience. In both cases, he explained, what is being assessed is a person’s ability to be competent at a given point in time and hoping the trend will continue in the future. This bounded rationality is of limited use for those looking to hire long term prospects.
“Looking solely at qualifications is lazy”
Cox responded that although in some cases individuals are capable of being high performers without training, in most situations, obtaining a qualification greatly increases efficiency. One attendee disagreed with the notion that those with relevant qualifications were most apt for a given role. In his opinion, this demonstrates a lack of openness. A participant pointed out that in many instances, being able to deviate from your chosen career path is a luxury.
“Qualifications get people through the door”
Another attendee felt that although qualifications provide an imperfect method of assessing potential hires, they do act as a filter in the initial recruiting process. This is particularly true when considering graduate candidates. One participant went further and suggested that qualifications were simply a mechanism which enabled hiring managers to base their judgement on something other than a CV.
Greer, voiced her opinion that university degrees were in some cases, false hurdles put before candidates to test their abilities and dedication to a certain field. Cox countered by explaining that IIAPS courses are focused on helping people operationalize the knowledge they are given. He pointed out that this methodology resulted in a challenging curriculum and that most candidates do not manage to obtain their qualification.
“[IIAPS] is not interested in providing qualifications for the sake of qualifications”
None of those present felt that qualifications were in any situation, a 100 per cent, fool proof method of assessing the ability of a candidate. Cox was the first to admit that some individuals were simply more naturally gifted than others, and as such able to perform to higher standards regardless of a lack of training. The general consensus in the room was that although qualifications are useful and provide a means of selecting entry level candidates, they are an imperfect solution for assessing individuals.
As Greer pointed out during her presentation, Cox was debating the more challenging of the two sides. This was reflected in the final vote, which saw the majority of attendees vote for the motion.