By: Elliot D. Lasson, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Joblink of Maryland, Inc.
Over the next week or two, parents will be helping their children with “Move-In Day” at colleges throughout the country. (Now they are all at Target buying linen, laundry baskets, and cube refrigerators.) Many of these institutions of higher learning are among the most prestigious private and public universities in the country. A good number of them have earned their reputations as having exceptional Liberal Arts curricula. Factoring in costs for tuition, room and board, books and spending money, the costs can be staggering on parents and on the students themselves.
In the past, I have written promoting careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). From my vantage point, that is where many of the open and unfilled jobs are. This is especially the case here in the Baltimore-Washington, DC area with all of the Federal government/military installations, tech firms, and contractors. In that regard, Liberal Arts colleges and curricula have taken somewhat of a hit lately. We have read of anecdotes of 22 year old college graduates who majored in History or English moving back home to be part of the “Boomerang” phenomenon. While they know quite a bit about the Renaissance or can write great prose, they have only been able to find jobs waiting tables or working as a receptionist in a local doctor’s office. That’s not what they thought that they were getting for their $150k in tuition and current student loan liability.
Enough of the bad news. There is still hope.
Kelli Grant wrote a recent piece for CNBC where she alluded to this hope, if you play your cards right. She presented six categories of courses which might enhance your career. I think that each area, either within a given undergraduate course of study or perhaps afterwards, has value. For this essay, I would like to focus on her first–STEM). Specifically, I will talk about the ‘T’ of STEM, Technology. It has been my observation that in this country and many others, the culture is one of consumer technology. By that, we like to be end-users, but have either no interest or acumen in building the systems that we use. Building systems come in three forms. First is manufacturing. The truth is that because of a variety of factors, most technology is physically built overseas where labor costs are much lower. The second is the programming of the technology. That includes writing the code for the systems. The third is content management. We can see this through the updating of code or writing the content. This requires access as well as the knowledge and skill to do that.
Let me hone in on the second for a moment. On one hand, there are those who have a STEM major at a four-year college or courses which have led to some industry standard certification. On the other hand, let’s say you did not major in something like Computer Science and have a Liberal Arts focus. Assuming that you are not headed to graduate school, what do you have right now? You have a balanced education in which you have basic overall knowledge of the world. You have developed skills in research, writing, and editing. You probably have worked collaboratively with others on projects. You have a Bachelor’s degree. Because of all of these factors, you might also be better situated for a management (of humans) role to eventually advance your career. Now, what would happen if after your Bachelor’s degree you took a few technical courses, go for an IT Minor or concentration, and maybe even get a technology-oriented internship? The technical courses here might be in coding, a programming language, or web design. Maybe you could even obtain some sort of industry-standard certification. Maybe you could learn mobile app development (for iOS or Android platforms). Now, let’s look at your portfolio moving forward in the job market. Working backwards, you not only are conversant in the technology (together with some real work experience which an internship would provide), but you also have a degree and other basic skills (writing). This can set you apart from a pure techie (not that there is anything wrong with that!).
As far as the third track goes, if you haven’t been keeping score, much of what happens today is web based. Everyone knows how to look things up on Google. But, what if you develop proficiency in web design and content management? This would allow you do engage in a work environment that is directly complimentary to your major. Given that you have the added advantage over others as being more comfortable with using technology, you could become the go-to expert in your organization as far as working with the content management system. In many cases, this involves an interface of the company’s website with a communications/marketing function that is fueled by social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, a WordPress blog, or YouTube. Operating in this space does not require much coding skill (although that might be advantageous). With a couple of website development training courses and a bit of initiative, you could leverage what you have to offer to help support the company’s website. While this might not be your formal title, that would certainly be a differentiating factor on any employment resume.
So, I would advise to see what is available in your area by way of technical training courses. Most local community colleges will have such courses in your area. These could be training courses that are non-credit, but could lead towards a technical certification. There are also some online courses which are available. Being able to include those skills and credentials, in the “profile” or “technical skills” section on your resume (perhaps together with some actual experience) will be huge! And if on top of that especially in this area), if you can get into an employment situation where you can obtain, maintain, and perhaps shop around a Security Clearance, then that is even huger.
So, not all is lost with your Liberal Arts degree. All it takes is the realization that the world is changing and that technology is changing. But, you also have to walk the walk and want to develop the package of knowledge and skills which could help you ride that wave.
About Elliot D. Lasson, Ph.D.
Elliot Lasson is the Executive Director of Joblink of Maryland, Inc., a nonprofit organization supporting the employment objectives of job seekers in the Baltimore Jewish community. Services of Joblink include career coaching, professional networking, interview preparation and employment-related workshops. Elliot’s Joblink@Work blog is about what’s trending in the workplace. His articles have been featured in the Baltimore Business Journalwith mentions in Fox Business, the WSJ, and the Chicago Tribune. He has appeared recently on WBAL, and Fox45 in Baltimore as well on the Nachum Segal Network. Elliot is also an Adjunct Professor at UMBC and U. of Baltimore. In 2009, he was appointed by Governor O’Malley to serve on the state’s Workforce Investment Board. Elliot earned his B.A. in Psychology from UMBC and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Organizational Psychology from Wayne State University.