Back to school. This means it’s time to stop binge-watching Orange is the New Black or House of Cards. But for many soon-to-be high school seniors, this is the time when we cramp essays and prepare for college admissions.
While it might seem a long way from “picking your major” to getting a paid job, students are increasingly worried about job prospects. We’ve all heard stories of unpaid interns, engineers working as sales representatives and art majors working multiple undesirable jobs. A bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma, and a PhD seems to be the new standard for getting g a job in economics, pure science and arts.
With unadjusted youth unemployment pegged at around 12 percent and increased job dissatisfaction due to underemployment, job prospects seem to play a significant role in defining one’s major. STEM (Science, technology, Engineering and Math) education is a phrase touted by educators and politicians — most notably President Obama, who pledged to invest billions in STEM education. Promoters of STEM education point to the potential job openings and the current mismatch in labor demands (structural unemployment). And the facts seem to collaborate: engineers and doctors have the lowest unemployment rates, and these professions have the highest potential growth in salaries.
But the reality is STEM education is not suitable for everyone. Many students opt for arts and humanities major. Instead of discouraging students from pursuing such majors, we should be equipping these students with skills that will integrate their talents into the digital age. The future canvas for artists lies in computer programming and computer software. The next time you line up to grab the latest iPhone, don’t forget the artists who designed the operating system and crafted the sleek aluminum chassis. Or think about the heavily auto tuned song you just listened to.
Students are not the only ones who shape the future job market. As technology shifts us into a knowledge-based economy, information can easily be obtained through a click of the button. Coursera, edX and online MBA programs are examples of how one could easily get an education online. But as access to knowledge increases (think of inflation), the value of a degree decreases. Experience becomes a much more valuable asset — an asset that most young adults lack.
Companies and businesses need to train and hire more young adults because they are the gateway towards shaping a young adult’s career. More than ever, young people need the job opportunities to build experience and incorporate skills learnt at school into the work environment. Businesses should not be disillusioned by a young adult’s inability to immediately translate school knowledge into the workplace. If companies expect students to develop skills that can only be acquired through work experience, train them! Offer more internship programs or co-op programs so when students come to your company for a full-time job, rest assured that they have the skills and motivation to succeed in the company.
We need to do a better job educating and preparing young adults for the jobs of the future. And this conversation needs take place between students, educators and businesses. It’s going to be tough for young adults because so much has changed compared to the baby boomers and the GenX-ers (those born from early 1960-80s). Access to knowledge, advancement in technology and global warming means that traditional jobs will disappear and new ones will grow. Young adults will need to learn how to adapt in the evolving market and be prepared to switch jobs. But let’s not forget that the millennials are the most entrepreneurial, tech-savvy group we’ve ever seen. We’re not going to be remember as a generation being cuddled for — we will be a generation remembered for its resilience and innovation.