Do future marketers really need a degree?

Last week was either heartbreak or rapture for many teenagers with 300,000 A Level students discovering their fate.

The most popular subject was maths, overtaking English for the first time in a decade, from 52,788 entries in 2004 to 88,816 this year. That’s in comparison to a drop of 4,100 in the number of students taking English.

I was therefore pleased to see the CBI’s director general John Cridland commenting that “highly-skilled workers are essential for our growth sectors and young people with science and maths qualifications will go on to become engineers and new tech entrepreneurs in the future”.

This got me thinking about the ideal educational background for marketers. A quick search on Google came up with Business Studies and Economics (neither in the top 10 of this year’s A Levels). I followed the ‘safe’ route of doing A Levels in subjects in which I had done well at O Level and a degree in the subject for which I got the highest grade at A Level – geography. My rationale was that the grade was more important than the subject and with hindsight, I don’t believe I was far wrong.

Most companies have intensive training programmes, which coupled with qualifications from the Chartered Institute of Marketing means that anyone who has the ability to assimilate information, manage their time well, has opinions, and can present half-decently, will have the basis of becoming a great marketer.

I think it was the American author ‘Zig’ Zagler who coined the phrase “Your attitude not your aptitude will determine your altitude”. I can train people to be great marketers, but I can’t do much about their passion.

Which brings me to another quote, this time from Jack Welch: “A fire in the belly beats a degree every time”. With the onset of higher university fees, more people are taking a different route. My company employs more than 100 apprentices every year, and I will be taking on my first marketing apprentice next year.

There is a strong argument that three years’ learning on the job puts school leavers in just as good a position as those who have endured three years of fast living at university.

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