One of the top worries of parents I have met over the past decades at different colleges, both public and private, big and small, is that their child has no idea what major to choose to get a good-paying job and ensure a gratifying and successful future.
Consider the following statements from recent reports on the future of the world of work:
“Perhaps the most important skill higher education can provide to individuals in the 21st century is one that will likely never show up in any job advertisement: The ability to navigate ambiguity.” That’s why educators are talking obsessively about flexibility, resilience, and grit.
Why? Work is changing rapidly in our country and, indeed, around the world. As Jeff Selingo points out in “The Future of Work and What it Means for Higher Education,” not only is automation altering the needs of employers, but the very definition of “employee” is changing radically. That means that the jobs your child will apply for in her future years may not even exist yet, and the terms of the employment will likely be different from what has traditionally been on offer throughout your career.
This points to the need for every student to hone the skills named by, among others, Burning Glass and the National Association of Career Educators (NACE).
Burning Glass’s top ten list of skills looks like this:
NACE includes these as the top ten:
But that’s not all.
“New research shows developing technical skills with a liberal arts education can nearly double the jobs available to graduates. Burning Glass analyzed millions of online job postings from the past 12 months and found that by coupling technical skills with a liberal arts education can nearly double the jobs available to graduates and offer an average salary premium of $6,000.”
Burning Glass also identified eight technical skill sets – Marketing, Sales, Business, Social Media, Graphic Design, Data Analysis, Computer Programming and IT Networking.
When you consider these lists and think about where college students can acquire them, you can quickly disabuse yourself of the notion that economics or business is the only rational choice. Just about all of these skills can be acquired through courses in any field and in externships, internships, and, in particular, in extra-curricular activities. Imagine the marketing, sales, business skills, and social media and graphic design efforts that go into leading a dance troupe. They have to convince a college board of some sort to fund it, so first they need to write a proposal and find an advisor. Then they scramble to reserve audition, practice, and performance space, create agendas, run meetings, choreograph, convince otherwise very busy peers to join, practice, and be reliable and then get other fellow college students to attend the performances. It’s a dizzying trial by fire the first time through.
The key to post-college professional success lies in translating what is learned in college in such a way that a prospective employer readily understands which of the applicants absolutely must be interviewed.
That ought to be the task of the career education folks at your kid’s college. Most career advisors are, however, extremely overworked (not to mention underpaid), so some of the work of translation may fall to your child as well as to you, if they let you help.
No, your years of parenting and guiding are not yet coming to an end. Your children will need you in ever new and more interesting ways as they forge their path to an independent life.
For many years, as a dean at three Ivy League colleges and now as an AVP at a university with an extraordinary mission, I have had a front row seat to the obstacles to success that college students and their parents confront every year. Even at so-called elite, highly selective colleges such as Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, where I spent some of my career, students struggle on a daily basis to remain healthy, happy, grounded, and to stay in school. I am dedicated to helping them.