How to Study at University

Practical tips and general thoughts on how to study at a Western university

The strange case of the vanishing jobs – Part 2

Posted on | September 20, 2011 | No Comments

Point: You don’t know what jobs will exist in the future

In Part 1 I pointed out that the first job you get after graduation may not exist in 10 or 20 years time, and I said that one way you could prepare for this is to do nothing.

Let me explain what I mean.

You are probably either studying a vocational course, such as medicine, law, accounting or engineering, that leads to a specific job, or a general course in arts or sciences.

If you are studying a vocational course, it will probably be easier for you to find a job than your friend who is studying arts or science. What’s more, your job will probably be higher in the organisation and better paid than your friend’s.

So far so good for you. Getting a good job after graduation is important. So the best way for you to prepare for the future is to do nothing. Just carry on with your studies.

So what about you arts and science students? Not only are you not training for a specific job, it will be harder for you to find one and it will be less well paid when you do. Shouldn’t you do something?

No, the best way for you to prepare for the future is also to do nothing. Just carry on with your studies.

Do nothing? Why?

Here’s why.

Twenty years after joining the massive American telecommunications company AT&T, 43 percent of liberal arts graduates had reached middle management. That’s nearly half. Not bad. One in every two arts graduates that started at AT&T were now well on their way up the corporate ladder. And getting a pretty nice salary, too.

What about business majors? After 20 years at AT&T, 32 percent of them were now in middle management. That’s only one in three. Or put another way, two out of three students who had studied business at university had not yet become middle managers, even after 20 years with the company.

And engineering majors? Remember, the engineers were probably the first to be employed 20 years before, and starting on a higher salary than the arts majors. But only one in four of them – 23 percent – had become middle managers. Three out of four engineers were still engineers, which may be great if they loved engineering. But also remember that their job will have changed a lot and they will have had to do a lot of study to keep up with those changes.

Another statistic

One more. At the time of the article I am quoting*, nine of IBM’s 13 top executives had liberal arts degrees. Not engineering or computer science degrees. Not business degrees. Seventy percent of the top dogs at IBM had general, liberal arts degrees.

They probably studied ‘useless’ subjects like history, philosophy, English, and sociology.

That’s all very interesting but why do these majors often do better in their careers than vocational majors?

In Part 3 I will suggest why, and also give some advice to both kinds of student on how to make the most of your chosen course of study. 

See you then!

* Thomas Hurka, Globe and Mail, 2 January, 1990



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