Qualifications Skills or Networking? What really gets us employed and into jobs in Birmingham?

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I’ve come across another quote in the Latchford report into the riots that has got me thinking. If we’re going to look at “inclusive growth” as one of the key lines of enquiry this will inevitably include employment  – but what does it take to become employed or simply employable?

Is it all down to qualifications?  5 years in senior school studying for your GCSE’s, another 2 in higher education for A levels or similar and then maybe a further 3 at University for a degree? Or have we oversold just how far diplomas and degrees can get us and it there much more involved than a rubber stamp on a certificate.

The report says;

“People don’t get jobs as a result of having qualifications (see the experience of well-qualified mental health service users) – they get jobs because they are connected. Some people need to be educated about social norms. We have a growing “underclass” who do not know what is considered acceptable in mainstream society and who are therefore preventing from  participating – in jobs and other benefits.  They need to be educated about the basics – hygiene, sexual behaviour, conflict management. This is not cultural imperialism – it’s fairness. Yet our official position is that if you get a qualification you get a job. These false promises create resentment.”

For me this reads simply as social skills. We need to teach a whole host of people how to communicate, how to behave and how best to manage and sell themselves – If you have this core foundation you could then develop skills “on the job”.

“You can teach a bubbly person to repair shoes but you can’t put the personality into a grumpy cobbler”

– John Timpson, Chairman of Timpsons.

There are of course career paths that require the “rubber stamp” of education and training; lawyers, doctors etc. But what about the rest of the workforce? Is further education really THAT relevant?

This is where I put my hand up and admit – I didn’t go to university I am one of those people without a rubber stamp. So why did  my manager employ me? Why did he take on my colleagues?

I don’t need to ask him as he has blogged about it recently on his company website, he says;

“Podnosh recruits for values.

We are driven by making things better: improving public services, helping active citizens have a greater impact, allowing individual civil servants more freedom to improve lives, supporting good third sector organisations to help more people. We don’t work with anyone – if potential clients don’t share a good chunk of our passions or values we’d rather they found someone else to help them.

So for this we employ or work with people who:

  • believe in what we do
  • care about it
  • are accountable
  • transparent
  • honest
  • have integrity
  • are networked

In turn they often know what they want and believe in and are leaders in their own worlds….

One thing I haven’t mentioned? A certificate in anything.”

-Nick Booth, Podnosh

Looking at the comments on Nick’s original post he’s not the only one who thinks this way. Karl Binder of Adhere wrote his own response to this on his own site “Employing people on aptitude rather than skills…” and an array of other people have commented on the subject – but what do you think?

If Nick employs for values and Karl’s company employs for aptitude what really is the best approach to finding work?  Do you think it’s through education? Is it attitude? Or are these answers too simplistic and  is it through something else I’ve missed entirely?

Leave a comment


  1. I’ve often found it interesting that media studies graduates tend to do well in job interviews – whether for media jobs or not – because they have good communication skills. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing, because you may have people who are better able to do a job missing out because they cannot communicate that effectively enough – but it can’t be ignored.

    There’s a similar story often told about the “confidence” that is taught in private schools – just see how central it is to the way that UK Boarding Schools market their members: http://www.ukboardingschools.com/advice/why-board/why-study-in-the-uk

  2. stephpodnosh

     /  19th April 2012

    Interesting point re boarding schools and confidence.

    The same can also be said of the home educated – this isn’t marketed in the same way as it is for boarding schools as for many this is a lifestyle choice as well an educational one but one thing I’ve come across with the HE community is they are great communicators. From the start of their home education journey they have mixed age peer groups – not tiered by age like in school year groups and so are put in a position where they have to articulate themselves to all ages and on many levels from the start and develop “life skills” fairly early on,

  3. The sad thing is, the New Labour government lied to my generation about the benefits education- in particular higher education- would bring. I think in some ways not having further education will be an advantage. It might have allowed you to get into white collar work before the recession for example.

    • With respect, your ‘example’ is based on the benefit of hindsight, and has nothing to do with the benefits (or lack of them) of education.

  4. The first time I went to a conference (Future of the Regional Press) as a media student in Birmingham, I walked in as a nervous flip-cam holding, slightly under-dressed interested party, and after getting pushed to stand up and have my say, came-out with the offer of a job when I finished my degree (although this opportunity didn’t come off, the point remains valid). I spoke about how online parties are holding authority to account more than ever before, at the expense of a rather old regional press enthusiast on the panel, and this seemed to interest a woman from a quite high-profile digital agency.

    Seems as though employers like the confident, well-versed people that are fully engaged in their industry; this can’t come across in your CV, and perhaps even in an interview, but it really important in getting a job in a city like Birmingham.

    So, although I think education is important, networking skips you through the first few stages of a job application, if you do it right.

  5. I am a firm believer that it is not about what you know, but about who you know. I do agree with the writer in that qualifications are an important in specific careers, but for the most part it really doesn’t matter. As I a student I appreciate the hard work and dedication that goes into acquiring qualifications, but as a broke Uni student I can truly relate to get utilizing networks to get a job. Having things to put on your CV is cool, but if already have an relationship with the person that is hiring, you are already in the door.

  6. Beatrice Bray

     /  19th April 2012

    Social skills are certainly useful but the Latchford Report has sidestepped a substantial area of knowledge on employment and mental health. There is already a lot of expertise on what works and what does not work in this field of policy.

    The Centre for Mental Health has a good overview of policy in this field:


    I have a personal interest here. I have lived on and off for 26 years with mental health problems. I am highly educated. I am a journalist by background. Here is my media cuttings page:


    I wish my track record were more substantial but I have done enough to demonstrate that the Latchford Report is wrong to say that people with mental health problems cannot work. I most certainly have the ability but I have not always had the right chances. I could say the same for others.

    The Latchford report speaks of “social norms” but it does not offer any real strategies on helping individuals and employers deal with the practicalities of occupational mental health. Maybe we all need social skills. Maybe some people need to learn how to behave in an appropriate manner when dealing with people with disabilities. Maybe we all need to be more aware of our own mental health.

    Conflict can happen because there is confusion about the job in hand and that is where well-designed qualifications can help. If a qualification can help an individual prove to an employer that they can do the job then sometimes this can smooth over the sheer awkwardness of disability. Disability becomes a side issue and rightly so.

  7. Chris Seymour-Smith

     /  20th April 2012

    An interesting range of opinions, mostly supporting socila skills over qualifications. It’s not that simple though to be fair. A doctor’s training is essential and much more than a rubber-stamping with the qualification. Would you want to be treated by a highly socialised but under-trained brain surgeon?

    I recall thinking when I started a one year teache training course that it was a paper exercise to get the qualification so I could teach. Couldn’t have been more wrong. It changed the way I thought and the way I taught. It was amazing, transforming, brilliantly enjoyable.

    A qualification is just the end point of a learning journey which is changes the traveller. Social skills are also essential. So I tihnk it isn’t a case of either-or. Both are invaluable and improve employability.

  8. I think there is definitely a sense of ‘who you know not what you know’ when it comes to getting a job after graduating. I am still a student myself and have had to carry out a number of work placements as part of my degree, all of which have been gained through contacts I have. I know other students have struggled to get work placements because they don’t know anyone in the industry. Of course work placements are slightly different to full time jobs but the idea still applies.

    When it comes to actually getting a job, I have had 4 jobs since turning 17, only 2 of which did I apply and interview for. The other two were secured because I knew the people that were hiring.

    I do think that you need to know your stuff and be capable of doing the job but I really believe you have a greater chance of securing a role through networking that just applying based on your skills. Let’s face it, having a degree isn’t exactly valuable anymore – it just seems to be the norm.

  9. This conversation hinges on what society defines as “an education”, I went to uni came out with the degree etc and went into marketing and advertising, I can candidly tell you that my education started the day I started at my first agency. Obviously certain professions require certain skill sets but what always seems to be lacking is a focus on peoples ability to communicate effectively and to get the job done.
    The best graphic designer I ever employed wasnt the best artist but the person who knew how to sell…that didnt come from uni.
    There is nothing of greater value than experience (good and bad) and sadly many employers dont seem to understand its importance. Too many people in the UK are placed on the scrap heap because they dont have the right piece of paper…sad


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