Monday, July 15, 2013

Colleges Offer More Career Prep - Less Liberal Arts

Is the time spent in college about broadening your horizons and developing a liberal arts education - or is it about getting a job? As the costs of college rise - and the job prospects for young Americans remain thin - prospective students and their parents are weighing more critically the luxury of liberal arts studies versus the acquisition of skills necessary to enter a career and earn a living. And this has raised concerns in some circles that the studying of the humanities is a luxury for wealthy kids, while the middle and working class need to forego the study of literature, philosophy, and music to pursue careers in technology, finance, and health care.

In response to the legitimate anxieties of the millenials and their parents, "colleges [are] offering more career prep." That's the analysis from AP writer Beth Harpaz who has discovered "instead of 'Follow Your Passion,' the mantra has become more like, 'we'll help you get a job.'" This is not a surprise to me, and I agree with the emphasis on job skills, even as I hope students can balance that pursuit with their desire to study interesting classes in the liberal arts. These days, numerous writers and consultants are urging students to avoid the follow your passion myth, and there is good reason behind such advice. "Passion," in all its innocuous excitement, leads very few people to careers in life. As a friend of mine has long noted, "We have lives, and we have jobs. Passion is for life, not work." Granted, some people - like me - are passionate about their work. Yet, more people would be better served developing skills and following their talents, rather than letting their passion lead the way. This is the message - Follow your passion and go broke - of Mike Rowe in one of my favorite TEDTalks:

Other great sources of information and advice on the passion versus skills debate are people like Daniel Pink, Cal Newport, and Daniel Coyle.  Newport's book So Good They Can't Ignore You encourages students to work hard at developing skills and talents in areas that interest them. By doing so, Newport believes, students will become highly skilled in jobs which will then become a passion for them.  Daniel Coyle makes the same argument in The Talent Code. And, these days technical skills are highly valued by nearly all companies, and it's important for all people to remain as current and trained in workplace technologies as they can. Chad Bailey offers this information for BusinessDaily on Tech Skills that Employers Want.


Anonymous said...

The myth is extended by billionaires like Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet who go around saying follow your passion. However, their passion happened to be in areas where you can make money. If your passion happens to be digging ditches or shoeing horses - you are out of luck.

mmazenko said...

Exactly - I tell my students specifically to not follow their passion. That is unless it's an obvious choice. Basically, some people should follow their passion, some people should follow their skills, and some people should follow the market.