Mid-career, first degree study gains popularity due to competitive jobs market

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Ambitious young people in the corporate world are increasingly turning towards furthering their studies within the context of a highly competitive jobs market, where top talent is scarce and sought-after, yet employer expectations exacting.

This is especially the case as workers start inching towards their thirties, and need to start considering how to move their career and earning potential forward, particularly where they have not yet earned a first degree, an education expert says.

“We are seeing a significant increase in enquiries from young people who have been in the workplace for a number of years and have done the hard yards, but who realise that further promotion will require them to broaden their skills base and credentials,” says Cynthia Olmesdahl, Online Strategist at IIE Vega, a brand of The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest and most accredited private higher education provider.

Olmesdahl says that while choosing which qualification to pursue after Matric comes with its own challenges, settling on a first qualification mid-career is an even more difficult decision to make, because very few workers are able to take three to four years out of their life at that stage to pursue full-time study while taking a gamble on a qualification that may or may not come in useful. Many are juggling young family life with demanding jobs.

“However at around 30, young professionals have more working life ahead of them than behind them, and making an investment in their professional development at that stage is a no-brainer. Particularly if they can keep working and study via distance learning, provided that the qualification they pursue is of a suitably high standard and well respected in the industry,” she says.

At this stage of the game, corporate professionals – outside of specific fields such as engineering, finance, and HR, where they would already have required a first degree to gain access to the jobs market – are likely to be working in sales, communications or brand-related fields where entry-level positions and internships don’t always require first qualifications, notes Olmesdahl.

She says it would be advisable for these prospective students to study towards a specialist qualification, rather than a generalist one such as a generic BA, for instance. This will position them to start moving ahead during study, even before they’ve completed their educational journey and earned their degree, because of the relevance of the applied skills they will be learning in their everyday work lives rather than acquiring merely theoretical knowledge.

For instance, the IIE BA in Strategic Brand Communication – which is available via contact or IIE distance (Online) learning – equips students with a wide array of key business knowledge which can be applied in the workplace straight away. Modules include Strategic Brand Communication, Principles of Innovation, Business Communication and Digital Media, and Brand Communication Project Management – and that only in year one!

Subsequent modules on the way to earning the degree include Critical Thinking, Consumer Behaviour, Sustainable Business Practice, Brand Activation, Digital and Experiential Brand Building and an introduction to research which is essential for those students interested in pursuing a IIE postgraduate degree following their BA.

“So when thinking about this next phase of their professional lives, prospective students should interrogate the mode of delivery, the standing of the prospective institution in the corporate world and their relevant industry, as well as the ability for the skills and knowledge gained to be applied in the real world, to solve real problems,” says Olmesdahl.

After about a decade of work, prospective students will understand themselves, their goals and their personal circumstances in a way that makes them much better placed to successfully pursue degree study via distance learning, she says.

“If you see yourself as self-motivated and worthy of investment in your personal and professional development, if you know that you need to commit now to improve the future prospects for yourself and your family, if you are disciplined and able to balance study with work and family commitments, and if you are able to direct your own studies at a diligent pace, you are ideally positioned to take the next step,” she says.