The timeless debate: qualifications vs life experience. Everyone has their own opinion about what's right or wrong, which decision offers the best result and which route young people receiving their exam results next week should be following.

With so many different outlooks to consider, it's not surprising that many students are feeling a little perplexed and unnerved by what the future holds. I left school at 16 with no qualifications, just the gift of the gab, a drive to make it alone and a naive idea as to what happens next.

GCSE reuslts
GCSE and A-level results are out soonReuters

Luckily, my lack of qualifications didn't prevent me from pursuing my dream of following in my father's footsteps and becoming an entrepreneur.

I'm often asked why this is, why despite my lack of tangible educational success, I've been able to start, build and grow businesses and achieve the success I have for myself.

The secret is that there is no secret. I believe there are lots of different paths you can take towards building a successful career, neither of which are right or wrong. The decision boils down to the kind of person you are and what will aid you best.

Traditional methods aren't for everybody. I was never an academic and when I was in school, all I wanted to do was get out and work. However, if I had my time again, I probably would've followed through and continued my educational studies because, if nothing else, it would have prepared me intellectually by improving my communication and research skills as well as providing me with a strong sense of commerce.

I made a lot of mistakes when I was starting my first business, mistakes that could have been avoided if I were not so ill-informed. I always say that experiencing failure adds character and is an essential step towards achieving success, however there are some logistical and silly mistakes I made that could have been prevented if I'd developed intellectually beforehand.

The true test for me came when it was time for my children to decide if they should take the same risk I did or if they should continue their studies. Everyone excels in different ways and areas and for many, just like me, education isn't the accelerator. However, dedicating time and effort towards furthering your education demonstrates a sense of perseverance, resilience and a determination to achieve goals – this is why I encouraged my children to think very carefully about their choice before making any decisions.

Choosing the best option

Many people would argue that continuing education is always going to be the better option because it helps you get ahead of the game – employers are more likely to take an interest if you have A-levels or a degree. However, this isn't always the case.

The opposing side to this debate understands that the more real-life work experience you have, the better equipped you are in business. To me, this is logical and I am always impressed by a candidate who has applicable and impressive work experience.

Utilising the three to five years you would have spent at university effectively and gaining experience in your chosen sector can often be priceless in an interview scenario and will set you apart from the competition.

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The timeless debate: qualifications vs life experienceGetty

It is often assumed that a candidate without a degree is at a disadvantage but more often than not, either these people aren't fortunate enough to attend university or, like me, aren't the academic type but this doesn't mean they're not as competent.

I think these misconceptions need addressing. I recently recruited a new member of our team who epitomises this perfectly; a young professional with six years of experience with PwC and three years at Deloitte yet no degree. Determined not to let a lack of qualifications evolve into a stagnated career, he worked incredibly hard to get where he needed to be by himself. This is a great example of how powerful passion and drive can be – everybody has the chance to build a successful career and this illustrates that conventionality isn't the only route.

There is no accurate answer to this argument because everyone is different. A lot of students receiving their results next week will have no idea what they want to do with their lives and university presents itself as a place to grow and find themselves, as cliché as that may sound.

On the other hand, many others will be keen to take the first step on the career ladder and get straight to work. What remains is neither decision is better or worse. Every young person should have an equal opportunity to succeed and should recognise that whatever route they choose, there are exciting opportunities ahead.


James Caan CBE is founder and CEO of Hamilton Bradshaw, a venture capital firm based in Mayfair, and a former panellist on BBC series Dragons' Den. He supports many charities and established The James Caan Foundation to support education and entrepreneurship in the UK. You can follow James Caan on Twitter @jamescaan.