Industry Market Trends

Diplomas Less Valuable than Experience, Many Small Business Owners Say

Aug 21, 2013

Employees with college degrees are not always considered as a more valuable asset to a company than their less-educated colleagues. Many small business owners admit they value real-world work experience the most, according to a new survey by Manta, an online small business support community.

Out of nearly 1,000 small business owners, 50 percent claim that they have staff without a college degree, with most citing no difference in the job performance among staff with higher education. Just 21 percent admit that college education is "extremely important and a necessity" for success in the working world, while less than half (40 percent) claimed it is "important."

Even so, the small business owners feel differently about their own educational experience. Sixty-eight percent admitted that their college experience made a difference in their success.

"While I value higher education, I know it's only part of what makes someone a strong addition to my team," according to Gary Wheeler, the owner of Virtual HR Director LLC, a human resource provider for businesses. "I focus on hiring people that understand my vision for the company, have the desire to be challenged and the experience and drive to contribute to its overall success."

The survey feedback provides insight into potential hiring shifts -- perhaps a hopeful sign for students tackling soaring college tuition rates, and for those who are looking for alternative education options.

As job candidates gain more valuable real-world experience through internships, small business owners looking to add staff might take note of another survey, which found that small business interns are less likely to stay with a company than corporate interns.

That survey, published in the Journal of Business Venturing, found that interns were more likely to join a company staff if they experienced "positive" involvement throughout their internships, an indicator that more small business owners need to bolster their internship programs.

Still, small business owners should view internships as a valuable practice that they should take seriously, according to Hao Zhao, of the Lally School of Management and Technology at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

"Entrepreneurs are often not well prepared for the urgent need to staff their growing businesses, and they are relatively disadvantaged in competing with large companies in the talent market," said Hao, as reported by "[An] internship is a relatively safe and low-risk approach for entrepreneurs to attract and select prospective employees."