“It’s not either/or” – degrees still relevant in today’s business world

15 December 2017
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Lizzie Krissansen (right) with her manager, Head of Enterprise Insight (BNZ) Sarah Cawsey

To degree or not degree? The hoary debate over the usefulness of a business degree took another twist in September, when 100 New Zealand firms under the banner of “nztalent” declared in an open letter that they no longer required tertiary qualifications “for a range of specific, skills-based roles”.

Lizzie Krissansen agrees there are many pathways to success, but even after working in the corporate world, would do her degree over again. Krissansen, 23, is a Performance Insights Analyst for BNZ in Auckland. Her manager Sarah Cawsey calls her a star performer: “the more you give her, the more she asks for.”

The daughter of a medical researcher and solicitor and academically bright, it was always understood that Krissansen would go to University. Skipping Year 13, she started at the University of Auckland at age 16,
and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce and Science conjoint majoring in statistics, psychology and marketing.

She started at BNZ in market research, before moving into the enterprise insights team.

“I’ve learnt a lot on the job. But University trains you to learn – you learn to learn, to widen your horizons and adapt,” she says.

“I went to Glendowie College, and everyone was quite similar, but when you go to Uni you’re exposed to such a range of people. University exposes you not only to new knowledge and ideas, but to different viewpoints, as well as different fields and industries.”

She changed her career path after her first year. “When I started, I intended to do accounting, but then I did a statistics paper and realised I enjoyed that more. If I’d done a micro-degree in accounting I wouldn’t have known all the other things I could do.”

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Lizzie Krissansen

Online learning is part of modern University life – lectures are videoed, and many of Krissansen’s friends watched all their lectures online while working full-time.

“I chose to go in person because it’s harder to pay attention online. I like to see things to learn, to talk ideas out. You learn from having discussions and testing your knowledge.” For her, University offered the ideal blend of online and face-to-face learning.

“We had a Facebook page for every paper we did, had online chats, but we ended up meeting up, and I had people calling me at home for advice. But that only comes together if you go to Uni and do the same paper.

“Right now, I don’t believe there is another place to learn all the skills in one setting like that. You can Google and learn to code yourself, but you don’t really have those support networks. And you need to know what you need to learn, and if you do it yourself you’re not always going to cover everything you need to know.”

An added value from her degree was the extracurricular opportunities. “One of my highlights was being part of the Women in Business Mentorship programme, where I was matched with a fantastic mentor who led to my first job at BNZ. Another highlight was a third year research paper that required you to do a real project for an organisation.”

Cawsey has just launched a graduate recruitment programme. She says her team is mixed, and questions the “either/or” framing of the qualifications debate.

“We’ve got people with masters and people with no degree at all, but they bring other things,” she says. “We employ for diverse ways of thinking, diverse tool sets, aptitude and attitude. Degrees are for some of the deep, advanced analytical work; it means there is a rigour that might not be there if you learnt it on YouTube. But I also admire people who go after that knowledge themselves without being formally trained – I think that’s incredible. There’s a place for both.”


Reproduced with permission from the National Business Review (NBR) “It’s not either/or” – degrees still relevant in today’s business world, published Friday 15 December 2017.