I’m often asked by people looking to get into or grow their career in the digital and IT industry: do employers prefer candidates with a degree, or is a short course/certificate better?
Drawing upon 10+ years’ experience in digital technology recruitment, my answer is this: It depends on the organisation and the role.
For example, I’ve seen people succeed in finding their ideal role having completed only an entry-level tech short course. The employer was focused on finding someone with niche capabilities and practical skills – rather than a generalist with a more theory-based degree.
The truth about the degree vs short course question is there are pros and cons to both.
Pros and cons of upskilling in digital with a short course or certificate
Over the last decade, Australia has seen massive growth in digital and tech-focused micro-credentials (AKA short courses). Education providers such as General Assembly and Academy Xi – as well as online institutions such as Coursera and Udacity – seek to equip students with in-demand tech skills, without the 3+ year study time. And these short courses are usually at a fraction of the cost of a typical $20,000+ university degree. But not all education providers are created equal. There needs to be more of a focus on students receiving certifications worth the paper they’re printed on.
Pro – you can build upon existing skills without sinking years into further education
Many micro-credentials cater to career-changers who might already have one or more degrees and are looking to pivot into a career in a digital industry. With short courses such as those in UX design, front-end development, coding, etc., you can leverage your existing skillset with practical experience in high-demand skills.
Pro – you can learn enough to get you in the door, then upskill on the job
Using your existing experience and taking a short course to ‘top up’ i.e. learn new skills, may be more than enough to get you in the door. That’s because some companies with large-scale digital and tech teams, such as Amazon and CommBank, invest a lot of time and money in upskilling employees to succeed in their role. In fact, they may even offer certifications specific to their organisation. For example, Amazon has its own ‘upskilling commitment’ to provide its US employees with more than $1.2 billion in free education and training.
Con – your short course credentials may not be recognised outside of Australia
Some countries and regions, such as Australia and the European Union (EU), have qualifications frameworks designed to ensure skill competency. But other countries do not. And even in the countries that do, it’s not entirely clear how far these extend when it comes to micro-credentials. Meaning, your short course/certificate from one country may not be recognised in another. Of course, the skills you gain from a short course could still help you land a job overseas – even if the qualification itself isn’t recognised.
Pros and cons of upskilling in digital with a degree
The more ‘traditional’ route of gaining a degree in a digital technology specialisation, such as a Bachelor of Software Engineering, can give you a deeper understanding of the given field. However, if you’re looking to build upon an existing knowledge base, or want to change careers quickly, then spending years and tens of thousands of dollars at university may not seem so appealing.
Pro – gain a deeper understanding of your chosen field
It’s no surprise something that takes multiple years to learn, versus months or weeks, is going to cover more ground. An in-depth theoretical understanding of your chosen specialisation is by no means a 100% guarantee of a high-paying and rewarding career in any industry. And it’s true that some employers prefer more practical skills. However, with a degree qualification, you should come away with a more well-rounded understanding of your field, and a better ability to apply theory learned to a broader range of situations.
Pro – get an internationally recognised qualification
A key benefit to studying a degree at a long-standing institution is more universal recognition of your qualification. While this isn’t necessarily true for all industries, your degree and capabilities are more likely to be recognised anywhere in the world.
Con – your degree and skills could date quickly
Innovations in the tech world happen at break-neck speed. One downside of studying a degree that takes years to complete, learning an already dated curriculum, is you may become a graduate without job-ready or in-demand skills i.e. those in the latest technologies and methodologies.
Con – the cost of higher education is increasing exponentially
While the price of a university education isn’t as high as it is in the United States (US), higher education costs are increasing in Australia. And when you consider nearly 25% of Australians have more than one degree, the cost is multiplied. Compared to a short course, a degree is certainly a bigger investment, without a fixed guarantee you’ll see that returned in career earnings.
Growing together at Circuit
 At Circuit, growth is at the very centre of our purpose. So much so, we provide a free Growth Program to ensure candidates have the right tools needed to grow their career. If you’re ready for your next career move, or simply want some advice on getting to where you want to be, reach out for a chat.  

Find talent

Your next superstar is a click away

Explore talent

Find a job

Find a job that’s just as awesome as you are.

Explore jobs
Enter security code:
 Security code