Gap years have a degree of value

Gap years are at least as important as degrees, say 56% of recruiters. Food for thought for universities, perhaps...

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 01 Jun 2011
More than half of bosses say a gap year is as important as, or even more important than, a degree when they’re trying to select candidates to interview.

At least that’s according to a survey of 250 UK managers, in which only 44% said a university degree was more important than swanning off on a year abroad. More surprising, 7% actually think that a gap year is a more compelling thing to have on your CV than a degree. Which could tempt a few cash-strapped youths to don that backpack. After all, compared to the soaring cost of tuitionfees soaring, a flight to Thailand is peanuts - and who needs a study group when full-moon parties boost your employment prospects just as well?

You'd have thought relatively few employers would get excited about seeing the word 'travel' on a CV these days, now everyone and their iPod is spending 12 months ‘doing’ South-East Asia. Of course it depends how they spend their time; if they're engaged in volunteer work or teaching, for example, they might be acquiring valuable experience. But if they're just ploughing the same old routes, and spending a year getting beach massages and drinking Bintang beer, it's a very different story.

Still, it clearly can be a useful string to the bow - especially for those seeking jobs in the HR, transport and healthcare sectors, which were the most likely to consider gap years as worth more than a degree. By contrast the engineering sector is apparently a bit more old school, being the most likely to take the opposite view.

One caveat: we should point out that the research was commissioned by volunteering company Projects Abroad. ‘In a climate where graduates face fierce competition in the job market, we should be encouraging young people in this country to embrace the idea of gap year travel,' its release states. No vested interest there, then...

Nonetheless, it's probably got a point; a good gap year can help graduates gain vital employability skills and stand out in a crowded marketplace (although 'doing a country' probably won't). And it hints at a broader and potentially more significant question: are universities doing enough to prepare their charges for the world of work? As our feature on high-level skills in the latest issue of MT argues (and there'll be more to come on this subject here on the site next week), there's plenty of room for improvement...

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