It’s no surprise that jobs in engineering, software design and other computer-oriented fields have come to dominate the market in our tech-filled world. Since 2009, computer science majors and related fields have increased by 43 percent in a response to filling those jobs. At the same time, enrollment in the humanities has been flat. CEOs are constantly lamenting the lack of qualified candidates in an engineering-starved workforce, and the Obama administration even redirected more than a billion dollars of education funding to bolster STEM fields.
With all of this focus on science and technology, it’s easy to think that a liberal arts degree would be a waste of time. After all, when close to 70 percent of the world’s most valuable companies are technology firms, isn’t it safe to assume that the future will be built by an engineering major or programmer?
In reality, there is plenty of room for the humanities in our brave new technological world.
In fact, tech companies need liberal arts majors.
How a Philosophy Major Saved a Tech Company
In his TED Talk “Why Tech Needs the Humanities,” Eric Berridge tells a story about a time that he and a group of fellow tech guys were at a bar bemoaning the difficulties they faced with a current project. The bartender, Jeff, overheard their complaints and became interested in the issue. Jeff had studied philosophy and was both intelligent and good at problem-solving; when he offered to give their problem a shot, the team decided they had nothing to lose.
Jeff managed to break through the problem they had been stuck on through finding a completely different route to the solution. Whereas a team of programmers had all gotten caught up on the technical details, Jeff had seen past that problem to a deeper issue that could be addressed and solved. The team ended up not only fixing their issue, but coming up with a far better solution and securing one of their best references.
That experience, Berridge explains, made him re-evaluate the way that the company looked at staffing. At the time, the company had 200 employees, half of which were programmers and engineers. Now, Bluewolf (an IBM company) has expanded to more than 1,000 positions, but fewer than 100 of them have majors in traditional STEM fields. Despite this, the company continues to be a top consulting firm in the tech industry, with $10 billion in annual sales and the fastest-growing software package in the field.
Clearly, hiring outside the traditional tech-specific fields was a huge advantage for Berridge, and that’s a lesson that more and more employers are learning every day.
The Future is in Tech, Not Tech Majors
Careers in the Information Age will almost certainly continue to revolve around technical products and solutions. However, this does not mean that you’re stuck with studying engineering or can only pursue a programming degree. In fact, the opposite is probably true. Today’s technology is so intuitive and user-friendly that many high-tech processes can be completed by someone with no programming training at all. Using the technology is as simple as putting together something with Legos.
Major companies like Google, Apple and Facebook are hiring huge quantities of new graduates who have never formally studied programming and will never see or touch a line of code. Two thirds of the job opportunities at these companies are for non-technical positions in marketing, design, project management, law, HR and more. These are jobs that will be filled by people who got a liberal arts education, and they are absolutely essential.
What the workforce needs, and will always need, is people with critical thinking and communication skills, and those are skills frequently honed in the humanities. What companies need most are new graduates who have the skills to help people work together, communicate and solve problems. This is what a liberal arts education prepares you for, and it’s one reason we should never value STEM fields at the expense of the liberal arts.
The Advantage of a Liberal Arts Degree
What the Eric Berridge story illustrates above all is that there is a demand for a wide variety of majors and areas of interest, and you shouldn’t turn away from a field of study that interests you out of fear that you might not be able to find a “good” job once you’ve graduated.
It is true that the liberal arts is not the easier path; it is as difficult, challenging and important as any technical field of study. But, if it’s something that you’re interested in pursuing, in the long term, it could be far more valuable than pursuing a technical major just because someone told you it will be easier to find a job immediately following graduation.
While science can teach us how to build things, it’s the humanities that teach us what to build and why to build them. An engineer might be able to create a powerful solution for a client, but if no one is available who can communicate the benefits of that solution or to listen to the individual needs of a customer, that technical skill is wasted.
When you’re looking at your options as a new college student, your primary focus shouldn’t be on what type of company you’ll end up working for or what sort of job you’ll be able to get after graduation. Instead, you should be paying attention to what you’re interested in and good at, and how you can hone those skills later.
There will always be demand in business for people who are good communicators, problem solvers and free thinkers.
If you are passionate about a particular field of study, you should pursue it. The jobs will be there when you graduate. There is no reason to expect that your degree will be less valuable than any other major just because most of the new jobs are tech-oriented.
Career Centers Positioning Students for Success
Colleges are not sitting still and letting liberal arts students out into the workforce without the tools to succeed. For instance, Randolph-Macon’s Edge Career Center, provides a structured approach to getting students ready for “the real world.”
This career center facilitates a four-year program that guides students by assisting them uncovering their passions and matching them with achievable career goals. The program also provides opportunities for building confidence via simulated job interviews and real-world business etiquette training. Students leave R-MC knowing how present themselves in a professional manner and communicate their value to market.
There is a place in the world for writers, artists, designers, philosophers and other liberal arts degrees. Follow your passions, and be what you want to be. Encourage your children, nieces, nephews and any other young people in your life to pursue diverse fields and follow their interests as well.
Science and technology is important, but it’s not the most important or only field of study for students looking to be successful.