Additional qualifications such as MBA and masters degrees may be the key to unlocking a pay rise and promotion.
Nearly half of employers surveyed by the Open University say work-related qualifications gained through additional education are the number one reason they would offer a salary increase or a higher-level position.
“Higher-level skills [are] more important to our national economy than ever [before],” said Keith Zimmerman, director of students at the Open University.
The OU, a distance learning specialist, polled 1,000 UK employers and 1,000 employees last year.
Completing work-related training programs was the second most desired attribute among these employers when offering pay rises and promotions, flagged by 33% of poll respondents.
In a fillip for the OU, gaining work-related knowledge through free online courses or by reading relevant books or articles was the third most common thing employers looked for when offering salary increases and career advancements.
An explosion of online content has gripped business schools and universities, with many top-ranking MBA programs being flipped online or taught through blended methods. This includes high-ranking business schools IE, Warwick and Durham University.
The right experience was the third most desired quality employers seek in new hires, cited by 37% of those surveyed, with a desire to expand skillsets (35%) and possessing the right qualifications (34%) cited as the fourth and fifth most important attributes.
But there was disparity between what employees see as crucial to achieve promotion and pay rises and the qualities highlighted by companies. Meeting deadlines, for instance, was cited by 37% of employees but by only 25% of employers.
“People in the UK work very hard, but some overlook the more effective means of achieving career goals,” said Keith.
The survey found that eight in 10 British employees are overworked, with nearly a third “burnt out”. Nearly two-thirds regularly work overtime, with nearly 10% working at least an extra 40 hours per month – a full working week, according to the OU.
Despite further qualifications and training being so highly valued by employers, just 11% of workers recognise the value of doing so. The rise of Moocs – massive open online courses – has been among the most popular ways to gain additional qualifications.
Expansion has given online learning providers massive enrolments. In 2014, EdX had at least 2.7 million users; Udacity 1.6 million; Alison 3 million; and Coursera had amassed 10 million users.
Business schools have also launched Moocs, which are often used to market full-time degree programs. HEC Paris, for example, launched four new Mooc courses in 2015, in entrepreneurship (two), corporate finance and understanding organizations.
However, according to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, of one million people who signed up for a Coursera course from June 2012 to June 2013, only 4% completed their classes.
In November, two leading professors at Pennsylvania’s business school Wharton warned that the disruptive technology used by Moocs poses a “real threat” to business schools and could “replace a large number of classroom instructors”.