Liberal Arts Graduates Shouldn’t Fret About Job Prospects—If They’re Up On Their Skills

Careers
Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on June 28, 2016 at 1:04 pm
Liberal Arts Graduates Shouldn’t Fret About Job Prospects—If They’re Up On Their Skills

English lit, humanities and philosophy majors may have a hard time landing a job upon graduation, but that doesn’t mean every liberal arts degree holder will struggle. Liberal arts graduates who combine their degree with specific skills actually are in demand, according to new research from Burning Glass Technologies, a Boston-based real-time job market analytics company.

Poring over millions of online job postings from the past 12 months, Burning Glass Technologies found that coupling technical skills with a liberal arts education can nearly double the number of jobs available after graduation. Not only that, the combo provides an average salary premium of $6,000.

“Within liberal arts, there are some strong opportunities for graduates to parlay their degree into strong labor market opportunities,” says Will Markow, manager of client strategy and analytics at Burning Glass Technologies. “The trick is really for graduates to understand what those opportunities are and what skill sets to invest in during their education in order to qualify for those jobs.”

Whether a college degree is worth it, let alone a liberal arts degree, has been an ongoing debate in recent years as the nation’s graduates face more than $1 trillion in student loan debt. Many grads are underemployed or struggle to land a well-paying job. That is particularly true of some liberal arts degree holders.

But there is also a huge skills gap, with employers of all sizes bemoaning the fact that even graduates with technical acumen are lacking in those soft skills that are necessary to succeed.  It forces employers to think outside the box when it comes to recruiting talent. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 93 percent of surveyed employers said the ability for job candidates to think critically, communicate and problem-solve outweighs their undergraduate degree. Companies that traditionally have looked only for hard skills are realizing a coding guru isn’t that valuable if he or she can’t communicate effectively.

“Some of the jobs fall into a middle bucket where they might require specialized degree, but companies are more than happy to accept someone that doesn’t have that degree as long as they demonstrate the aptitude and skills that are necessary,” Markow says. “By adding on to their liberal arts background a set of specific skills, it can nearly double their employment prospects once they graduate.”

General business, sales skills in-demand

So what are the skills employers are looking for out of liberal art graduates? According to the Burning Glass Technologies analysis, they fall into eight categories: marketing, sales, business, social media, graphic design, data analysis, computer programming and IT networking.

Traditionally there are 954,966 jobs open to liberal arts graduates with an average entry-level salary of $42,731. Add one of those additional skills to a resume and the number of jobs increase by an additional 861,752, bringing the total number of job opportunities to around 1.8 million. Better yet, the average entry level salary for those additional jobs is $49,052—nearly 15 percent higher.

When it comes to the eight categories that can add to a liberal art degree holder’s job prospects, Burning Glass Technologies found general business skills are in the most demand, with 577,787 postings during the last 12 months. Markow says these skills are desired because they can be applied across many different roles, whether the positions are for sales or business administration. “In many cases, (having general business skills) is enough to get your foot in the door, and once you are in the workplace, you can start to build upon the foundational business skills and get more specific expertise to further your career,” he says.

The next highest skills demand revolves around sales and skills that support sales and promote products and services as well as managing customer relationships. According to the research, there were 567,855 job postings for sales skills. Rounding out the top three was social media skills, with 399,577 job ads listing that as a required skill.

Options abound to get extra skills

How liberal arts students get the necessary skills varies and depends on what stage of education they’re in. For example, incoming college students can major in liberal arts and minor in one of the in-demand skills areas or gain experience they can put on their resumes through internships.

Those who have already graduated can explore technical boot camps that give students the necessary skills, for example, to write computer code in a short period of time. There also are Massive Open Online Classes, or MOOCs, which are free online courses taught by professors of elite schools such as Stanford and industry executives from places such as Google. Students can learn how to write computer code or develop Android based apps for free among a ton of other courses.

Obviously, opportunities abound, even for liberal arts grads. “Even if they go into a field that doesn’t directly map a specialized degree program, there are still many opportunities to gain skills to make them marketable in the job market,” Markow says.

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for Bankrate.com, Glassdoor.com, SigFig.com, FoxBusiness.com, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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