06 DECEMBER 2015

Education - The Great Debate

Education - The Great Debate


One of the great dilemmas of education is whether to focus students on subjects that have direct relevance vocationally, or whether we believe in education for education's sake. Given the shortage of engineers and scientists, is it reasonable to allow people the freedom to pursue courses that are unspecific and in some people's opinion, not "useful"? However, could you really argue that a degree in Latin from Cambridge is a waste of time?


My own educational background is a reflection of the dilemma; I have a Higher National Diploma in Business Studies and a BA in Humanities. I would argue that any success that I have enjoyed was as much a result of the latter as the former. One of the best appointments that I ever made was a woman that I recruited as a Purchasing Director, who had a degree in Zoology from Oxford. It's hard to argue the inherent relevance of Zoology to purchasing, but she was simply outstanding and is now a CEO in her own right. I'm sure that her educational experience contributed to her work ethic and her ability to organise. Coupled with a highly developed moral centre and outstanding ethics, she was perfect for the role.

Much of a business leader’s role is inevitably financially centred. However, in most cases, it's pretty basic arithmetic. There's nothing terribly taxing about P and L's and Balance Sheets. GCSE maths should be adequate for you to cope with those. It's the area of written and spoken English, that is most underestimated by the modern executive. Always remember that words are powerful. We use them to explain, encourage, argue, motivate, castigate and inspire. When I held my first board meeting, I was understandably nervous. My ability to harness the power of vocabulary got me through that first meeting and on to many more. That wasn't the result of vocational training; it was the result of studying English Language and English Literature, of loving to read and to debate, and of that making me the person that I became.

It's patently obvious that some careers demand a specific form of education and qualification; for example if you hope to become a lawyer. What should be kept in mind, however, when choosing subjects for study is that career paths often change direction. They are not always ramrod straight motorways, more winding and undulating B roads. General subjects can be adapted to different job roles. Education and experience will win jobs, but drive, work ethic and personality will make you successful.


Mr. David Ford has been Chief Executive Officer of GBM Support Services Group Limited since 2010. Read David's full career profile.