Wednesday 7 August 2019 5:36 am

University is not the be all and end all for success

Samuel Leach is chief executive of Samuel & Co trading.

Exam results are looming, and with fears of failure and disappointment plaguing young people up and down the country, it’s about time we make students in the UK more aware of the realities of our changing professional landscape. 

The fact of the matter is that a piece of paper should never and will never define young people’s future finances or professional progression. 

Academic pressure

Far too often, I see and hear of young people being coached into believing that exam success and university set the tone for their future career path. And frustratingly, influential figures are failing to acknowledge that the workplace landscape is changing – for the better. 

For instance, while societal and parental pressures surrounding the need to go to university still exist, academic success is no longer considered an absolute necessity for many high-profile companies. 

Read more: London needs a new type of university

Smart employers are finally starting to realise that academic performance and success in the workplace aren’t necessarily connected. 

In fact, some of the world’s richest and most renowned entrepreneurs, including Bill Gates and Richard Branson, chose to carve out their own path to victory and refused to conform to what society told them to do. 

They didn’t complete university degrees, yet they’ve gone on to become some of the best-known entrepreneurs in the world as a result of their career success. 

My journey to the top

As a teenager, I shared a room with my father and brother, and grew up experiencing huge financial difficulties, finding it challenging to balance a tricky home life with education. 

As a result, education was never something that I excelled at. I achieved mostly Ds and Es at GCSE, and was also expelled from school. 

On paper, my educational journey was a failure, but what I now realise is that no skill will ever outweigh the ability to channel fortitude and hard work. By rejecting society’s message telling me that good grades automatically led to professional success, I looked for other alternatives to gain further skills. 

Apprenticeships, BTEC qualifications, and sector-specific courses are all just as valid, and often offer more relevant, necessary workplace skills. 

As soon as I realised that I was able to pursue a career in an industry that interested me, I focused my attention on my new goals and turned my student bursary into a substantial profit. 

This initial – and somewhat surprising – success taught me that the key to a happy career is making decisions that best suit you personally, rather than following the crowd. It’s mindset, rather than qualifications, that should determine your future. 

The lesson for students

Several years after being expelled, I have managed to turn my life around, building a million-pound trading business, training over 2,000 people, and recently writing my own book. 

Still, one of the most common misconceptions among young people is their belief that higher education and exam results will automatically set them up for a thriving professional career. 

While everyone should of course aim for success at school, it is not the be all and end all. 

I hope that my somewhat unconventional journey shows some young people that, no matter what happens with exam results in the coming weeks, there are always alternative routes to get to where you want to be.

The bottom line is that career and financial success are built more upon attitude and application, rather than exam results and university attendance. 

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.