Liberal arts graduates may not have direct training in those domains, but the liberal arts live within the core framework of interdisciplinary synthesis and critical evaluation. In the fast-growing field of data analysis, the entire skill set has shifted over just a three-year span away from pure statistical computation to place much more emphasis on visualization and business analysis. The problem is that, while employers need the capabilities students accrue in the humanities, they also expect their hires to have the specific technical skills to be productive from day one.
That may seem like an unresolvable conflict, but arming students with both foundational and practical skills may be more feasible than one might think. As things stand now, Burning Glass research shows that only one-quarter of all entry level jobs requesting a B. They include positions like recruiters, administrative assistants, store managers, account representatives and others that may not measure up to the ambitions students or their families may have had for their college investment.
Now compare that with the options for a liberal arts graduate who has also acquired some specific technical skills, such as marketing, sales, business, social media, graphic design, data analysis or IT networking -- skills that can be picked up without a full degree. They can be learned in nondepartmental classes, a minor, an internship or a noncredit program outside of college. Not only are more jobs available but also our research shows employers actually prefer the combination of broad knowledge and specific technical skills -- when they can get it.
Even IT departments need people who can write. We end up arguing about the value of truth and beauty pitted against technology and commerce or about how closely educators and employers should work together. The subject is so prickly that some academics dismiss the argument that liberal arts graduates possess skills of value to the market as demeaning to the discipline. Doubling the number of jobs open to liberal arts graduates would go a long way toward ending this lazy debate. They certainly do have value, and employers know it.
Why Is Vocational Training Necessary?
Seizing this opportunity, however, does mean that colleges have to relate to students in a different way. Fortunately, several practical strategies have emerged for making this transformation:. Give students a road map to a career. Most academic advising is focused on getting students the courses they need to graduate in their major. In some cases, such as pre-med, advising is built around getting into a graduate school. But rarely is it built around what students need to make successful transition from college to career. For example, one of the most bankable skills in the workforce is also one of the most mundane: using spreadsheets, particularly Microsoft Excel.
Even among high-skill jobs, a whopping 83 percent require knowledge of Excel. But how often do students majoring in programs like anthropology, English literature or political science hear this from their advisers? The fact is most advisers are themselves academics, so expecting them to be able to dispense detailed career advice may be unrealistic.
This is where technology can help. Career applications can tell students what kinds of jobs will be accessible to them and what skills they will need to get there, enabling them to pick courses on the periphery of their liberal arts degree that will give them the practical tools to achieve good career outcomes.
Far from threatening the liberal arts, such an approach empowers students to take intellectual risks. Package courses around skill sets. Higher education already thinks in these terms: concentrations, specializations, certificates and other ways of bundling course work together in a meaningful way. Such packaging can provide useful signposts for liberal arts students thinking about the future -- and for employers looking for relevant talent.
In many cases, the necessary courses already exist. It is only a question of pulling the threads together.
That requires a certain amount of interdepartmental cooperation, traditionally not the strong suit at many institutions. Want to go into human resources? Here, too, starting with an awareness of demand -- which jobs represent compelling targets and which technical skill bundles do they require -- can be useful in ensuring that there is a governing logic to the catalog of certificates that the institution curates. That also requires being open to new ways of packaging skills. To go back to our earlier example of a career signpost, everything from full-semester courses to one-day training sessions on spreadsheets is available.
The right approach for a particular student is going to depend on the career she is likely to pursue and how the course offering is structured. Remember that when students reach the job market, skills are everything.
Vocational Education and Its Benefits - What is Vocational Training?
Departments that are technically or professionally oriented already know this. Just as college faculty members expect students to show up ready to learn, employers expect new hires to show up ready to work. You can see this in employer postings for entry-level jobs and even internships, where companies are quite specific about the skills students need to even be considered.
But even in fields like finance, communications and design -- the kinds of careers to which many liberal arts students aspire -- employers call for interns and fresh graduates to have specific knowledge of social media, particular accounting software, Adobe Creative Suite and the like. Faculty members in career-oriented departments make sure to build those skills into their courses.
Indeed, providing students with a career map that leads through the liberal arts can only strengthen their appeal. How many business students would be majoring in humanities if they felt confident they could still have a career in business after graduation? This approach requires no major curricular overhaul, no fundamental change to how colleges teach the arts, humanities and social sciences. It should not be a distraction from the fundamental role of these fields: to explore the connections across knowledge and evaluate ideas critically.
The lazy debate between art and commerce, in the end, will advance neither one. And if the liberal arts become a luxury item, pursued only by those willing to make a financial sacrifice, then their influence in the fabric of American intellectual life will wither as well. The good news is that this lazy debate can be ended.
Social Background And The Choice And Consequences Of Undergraduate Field Of Study
It just requires an acceptance that a fulfilling career is as much a part of a life well lived as broad knowledge for its own sake -- and a new approach to making both accessible for students. If, for example, you are studying to be a carpenter, you would spend some time being told about how to perform a task but would spend far more time actually carrying out the task. Rather than sitting in a classroom, you would be actually building something--the definition of "learning by doing.
Academic education, on the other hand, focuses on reading material, being told information, and discussing material in groups. There also tends to be a strong focus on writing, although some academic disciplines focus more on this than others.
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Either way, though, academic schools focus more on the understanding of concepts in a theoretical setting rather than applying them in a practical setting. Vocational school graduates tend to go into the career they trained for--the carpentry student above would find a job as a carpenter.
Trade School vs. College: Drawbacks to College Education
They are valuable employees for these industries because a vocational education ensures that they have the exact knowledge they need to succeed. Not only does a carpentry graduate understand the principles behind carpentry, but he can also show that he has successfully applied them in a variety of ways. Graduates from academic schools tend to have broader, less-applied skills. The level to which they have these skills varies depending on what they studied--a liberal arts graduate will have strong research and writing skills but not as many applied skills as a law, medical or hard science science graduate.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, though, particularly if someone does not know precisely what they want to do with their life. While an academic school graduate does not have as many clear options as a vocational school graduate, he is also better-equipped for broader focused, more theoretical jobs like working as an analyst, journalist or a variety of other jobs that require critical thinking over applied skill.