March 20, 2017 by Anna Peters
There is a public perception that liberal arts graduates are somehow less valuable. Dr. Ascan Koerner with the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota will tell you why the opposite is true. College Recruiter connected Dr. Koerner with Todd Raphael of ERE Media to learn what his team is doing to make sure employers understand the relevancy of liberal arts students and graduates. A video of Todd Raphael’s and Dr. Koerner’s discussion is below.
According to Dr. Koerner, we have seen more public discussion in the last 5-10 years about the value of higher education, generally speaking. The arguments for what is valuable have primarily focused on STEM education. (That is, science, technology, engineering and math.) Some believe that in order to be competitive in an international job market, one really has to be focused on STEM. At one end of the spectrum, we see the Governor of Kentucky, who has questioned why universities even have liberal arts programs at all. This makes liberal arts students—and their parents—nervous. Dr. Koerner says that at the University of Minnesota, students are asking how liberal is helpful in their careers. He says their belief in the value of liberal arts has never wavered, “but the question hasn’t been posed to us in such stark terms.”
Employers already value liberal arts, but they don’t realize it
Overall, employers already know the value of liberal arts. The problem is, they don’t recognize it as liberal arts. When you ask employers, for example, what they value, they cite competencies that are quintessential typical liberal arts. At the top of their lists are analytical/critical thinking, communication, leadership, ethnical decision making, and engaging diversity.” Employers know what they value, but the job candidates—the liberal arts students—aren’t always good at explaining their own value. So while colleges and universities bear some of the burden of convincing employers, students bear most of that responsibility. A philosophy major may embody the exact skills needed but when you ask him how his education prepared him for a career in corporate America, he has a hard time. That is why it is so important to engage and prepare students for answering those questions. When the students eloquently explain their own competencies, that is more convincing to an employer than if the institution were to explain the overall value of liberal arts grads. Continue Reading
January 18, 2017 by Guest writer Dr. Ascan Koerner, University of Minnesota
For employers who look exclusively for STEM backgrounds to fill their positions, they are missing out on a wide pool of qualified candidates. Students with a liberal arts degree offer distinct advantages, and employers should not overlook them.
Technical and engineering skills may fit only the short term
The technical and engineering skills that get a student hired initially often have an expiration date. Those skills unfortunately may also fall victim to automation. A recent study by Carl Frey and Michael Osboren of Oxford University suggested that 47% of all employment in the U.S. is at risk of being replaced by automation, including many mid-level technical and engineering positions.
Skills most in need are not technical, but soft
Even more importantly from a career development perspective, technical skills alone often are insufficient to help employees advance their careers. Almost invariably, career advancement means to take on managerial and planning responsibilities. Those leadership positions require not technical skill but so-called soft skills. Soft skills include critical thinking, being able work in a group, interpersonal communication, leadership, and complex problem solving. No surprise that according to a recent survey of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the four most sought after skills of recent graduates are not technical, but critical thinking/problem-solving, work ethic, teamwork, and strong oral and written communication. A recent study conducted by Indeed.com reports that 64% of “opportunity jobs” (those with high and growing wages) require complex problem solving skills.
Liberal arts programs prepare students for leadership
It is precisely in these areas where students with a liberal arts education have distinct advantages over their more technically educated peers. Indeed, at the core of a liberal arts education is building skills such as problem-solving, communication, leadership, engaging diversity, and ethical decision making. Liberal arts programs uniquely prepare graduates for leadership and managerial roles in organizations. Liberal arts students are also used to using their skills in various contexts, preparing them to better deal with uncertainty. Given the long-term unpredictability of today’s business climate, this adaptability is critical. Furthermore, liberal arts college are also committed to diversity and uniquely prepare students to learn and interact with students from a wide variety of backgrounds. It is no surprise that liberal arts graduates are disproportionately represented in the c-suites of the nation’s largest and most innovative corporations.
Liberal arts graduates are life-long learners
A final strength of liberal arts graduates that is often overlooked by recruiters is their ability to acquire new skills and to engage in life-long learning. Even if liberal arts graduates need more initial training for a position that requires specific technical skills, they have all the attributes that will make them successful in the long run. Not only do they tend to advance more readily in their careers, they also are more likely to stay with their employers and contribute significantly to the long-term success of their organizations.
Colleges want to help connect liberal arts to careers
Increasingly, colleges and universities are becoming more aware of how a liberal arts education contributes to career success. They are beginning to engage students and employers in conversations about the distinct advantages of liberal arts degrees. For example, the College of Liberal Arts of the University of Minnesota recently launched a career readiness initiative. The initiative highlights ten core career competencies inherent to the liberal arts. The college offers courses and programs that allow students not only to recognize their unique skills and abilities, but also how they relate to their long term career success.
Recruiters who want to hire for the long run should pay attention to these developments and to not overlook liberal arts graduates. These young workers are viable candidates for entry-level positions, especially those that are a pipeline for leadership opportunities within their organizations.
Dr. Ascan Koerner was recently interviewed by ERE Media’s Todd Raphael. They discussed the perception and reality of liberal arts students’ competencies and preparedness for careers. Read about and watch their discussion here!
About Dr. Ascan Koerner: Ascan is the Director of the Career Readiness Initiative at the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts. The initiative is part of the Dean’s road map for the college and aims to make CLA graduates the most desirable and best prepared graduates. In addition, Ascan is a professor and director of undergraduate studies. His research interests are family communication and communication in interpersonal relationships.