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Radical Innovation: Success Without Academic Boundaries: Seg 2: Part 3 The Value of Work Experience

This article was written by guest blogger: Justin Beattey a pioneer in the peer-based recovery support field.

Experience vs. Education: A Paradigm Shift

As our professional cultures continue to grow and expand their acceptance policies, one that has yet to catch up is the idea that experience in a relevant field is not equivalent to formalized education. Think on that for a moment, professional experience is STILL not looked at as education that is sufficient to be employed in a skill. Having the knowledge to complete the role by being employed at it for X number of years is not considered as valuable as educational-based learning. I, personally and professionally, cannot fathom that.

The Mentorship Paradigm

Think back to the last time you were trained to do a role. You more than likely were paired with a more experienced/knowledgeable worker in that role at the organization. Thus assuming, the organization values the experience that person has in their role with the organization to teach you how to do that role. Sure, that person may have been hired based upon educational background, yet they were more likely picked to be a mentor/leader/trainer due to the experience they gained while DOING the role. When working we hear versions of ‘Go ask (fill in name), they have been doing that awhile and may have a better understanding….’, again showing that experience is valued in the workplace. I haven’t ever heard ‘Go ask (fill in the name), they went to school for that.’ Now my professional experiences are not the whole chasm, yet I believe looking at it through the implementation/actualization lens of this mythos is relevant.

The Practical Application of Skills

Education-based experience is valuable for so many roles. There are certain concepts that can be taught through formalized education. However, when we look at most education-based pathways, there is regularly a ‘field placement’ of some sort to ensure the person knows how to use the skills they were taught. Learning skills only go so far if a professional has not had the ability to use those skills in a practical application process. When we look at how many roles within the professional landscape are structured, we see government agencies placing a high value on apprenticeships (Department of Labor as an example) to show that skills-based learning is necessary for a competent workforce. Apprenticeships allow a professional not only to put their learning into practice but are also to learn and develop important work-related skills such as leadership, communication and analytical thinking ( These are items that are valuable to the ongoing success of the professional, the work they do, the organization, and the consumer of the products/services the organization provides.

The Changing Landscape of Employment

The paradigm has shifted in the way the workforce views employment. For decades, the high standard in Western culture was that of earning a college degree. Whether it was in conversations around parenting, high school success, community success, etc., college enrollment/completion was a highly discussed standard. As we continue to see collegiate enrollment drop (, we are going to see less availability of professionals who meet this antiquated standard. The workforce saw an unexpected retirement of the ‘boomer’ population and was not prepared for this downfall ( This will have a lasting effect if our employers do not see the value of experience as an equitable alternative to a college degree. We continue to hear of labor shortages, however, do not hear enough about how employers are reviewing their hiring practices to create a more inclusive applicant pool that values experience in a role.

Balancing Experience and Education

As we continue to work towards this new culture, we are seeing more employment postings that ‘require’ degrees, however, have additional language such as ‘X years of relevant work experience may be substituted for a degree’. This practice is a welcome change, however, what we find is that the relevant work experience years may exceed what can be expected as equitable to the time in college. In some instances, for bachelor’s level degree requirements, we see that 7-9 years (minimum) of experience is considered the substitute. Earning a degree is tough. Maintaining employment in a field is tough. Both provide valuable insight, education, and skills that should be looked at on a more even basis.

Embracing a New Workforce Culture

What is the culture of your employer? Do they value the experience you bring to the table or formal education? Is it a bit of both? Only time will tell how this will play out, yet we must find new, times-specific methods to support our workforce shortages and more value placed on experience is a great place to start.

Justin R. Beattey


Director – MHAI Stanley W. DeKemper Training Institute

Deputy Director - ICAADA

Director – Indiana Association of Peer Recovery Support Services (IAPRSS)

Thank you for your deep insight and all you have done to lift up people in the professional world whose 'why' is deeply rooted in helping others find recovery, Justin.

If you the reader would like to delve deeper into these discussions or wish to connect, please feel free to email me at or send an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. Your insights and stories are what drive this community forward.


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