University is a waste of time. We hire on attitude

Ben Stevenson, CEO Art of Cloud, prefers to support apprentices and non-graduates. Here's why
Ben Stevenson
Ben Stevenson

Education is a wonderful thing.

But as a tech entrepreneur and employer I know that our ‘one size fits all’ system isn’t for everyone.

I’m proof of life lived without the benefit of a degree. I got expelled from school, didn’t go to college and definitely didn’t aspire to go to university but a decade or so later, I’m enjoying a successful, hugely rewarding career.

I employ more than 40 people across two companies and at the age of 30, I hope there’s much more to come.

Don’t get me wrong, if my children want to be a lawyer or doctor, of course I’d support them but outside of that, I’d be very happy if they swerved uni completely.

In a world where the digital skills gap is all too real, business leaders and school leavers need to reconsider their approach. The government’s Digital Strategy talk of the needs to tackle this - with new funding and a willingness to be more open-minded about alternative types of education.

Last year research from The Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD) revealed more than one in three UK graduates said they were ‘stuck’ in unsatisfying, low-paid work, with 30 per cent taking home less than £20,000 a year.

As a tech entrepreneur, I pride myself on helping people flourish at work, using my personal experience to inform my professional attitude to recruitment and training.

At one of the companies I founded, Art of Cloud, we’ve bucked the trend for blindly favouring graduates, choosing to hire on attitude, skills and potential instead.

Of course there are areas where a relevant degree is preferable but that isn’t the be all and end all. I’m keen to give other people the chances I needed and had to make for myself - and like all the best business strategies, it makes commercial sense too.

After all, our expert teams are what drives our success - in the six years since we launched Art of Cloud we’ve doubled growth year on year - and I challenge anyone to find a more committed and dare I say it, happy bunch.

We’re Salesforce specialists - a platform that helps clients speed up processing and achieve growth - and maintaining that means investing in ongoing, bespoke training.

Having a degree doesn’t necessarily come into it. To date, half of all of our people don't have a degree of any kind and 25 per cent have a degree that’s not relevant to what we do.

It’s about that crucial difference between skills - according to UK government figures more than 80 per cent of current jobs require digital skills - and degree level education.

The tech sector is a fast-moving one - it needs agile, lifelong learners. So if someone walks through the door with an impressive work ethic, an appetite to learn and a proven track record in areas like customer service or sales, I’m more likely to consider them, then someone with a computer science degree and nothing else.

That hunger to succeed, to up-skill and progress, to be part of a flourishing team, is a mindset I recognise all too well.

Despite being a bright kid, school just didn’t work for me.

I stuck it out until I was 17 then waved formal education goodbye for good (full disclosure, I was expelled). While friends and family were planning for college and university (I’m the only in my family NOT to have a degree) I knew I wanted to get stuck in to work, to business.

As my granny said at the time, I’d be absolutely fine going to the ‘university of life’. She was right! I’d started work at 13 and loved the freedom that came with earning money - and seeing how companies worked.

My first job was actually in customer service but I got transferred to the sales team after up-selling to clients as I went.

I realised I was pretty good at sales and progressed quickly, with the help of forward-thinking mentors who weren’t prepared to let the fact I didn’t fit the traditional management profile - of an older, graduate - hold me back.

I founded my company, Art of Cloud at 29, and five years on am still working hard to build that same open-mindedness into my recruitment policies.

At Art of Cloud we now support apprentices and non-graduates. We recruit people from other sectors and work with people of all ages - older as well as younger.

One of our team came to the UK seeking asylum, others joined after long careers in retail and other sectors.

What unites us are those business basics, re-shaped for a modern, tech-powered world; the desire to work hard, to commit to specialised training and mentoring and to support others, helping us achieve long-term commercial success.

Written by
Ben Stevenson
CEO Art of Cloud
May 15, 2023