What’s That Liberal Arts Degree Worth?

column | Jobs & Careers

What’s That Liberal Arts Degree Worth?

By Betsy Corcoran (Columnist)     Apr 3, 2018

What’s That Liberal Arts Degree Worth?

This article is part of the guide: How to Score a Job in Edtech: Tips From Experts, Experienced Job Hunters and More.

Sure, coding is cool. But what about those of us who earned a degree in say, English, anthropology or some other classic “liberal arts” degree?

Shhh, don’t tell: Jobs that use the skills that liberal arts grads have may be growing faster than other economic sectors. “Take a close look at job creation since May 2012, and you will see that the fastest-growing fields often turn out to be the ones indirectly catching the warmth of the tech revolution,” writes George Anders, author of You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Education.

One great example: OpenTable, which won its fame by created the software that helps us make reservations at restaurants. Here's OpenTable's open secret, though: it also employs experts who visit restaurants, iPad in hand. They explain how to interpret the reservation data into smart choices, say, by using bigger tables at some times or by changing how much in advance they accept bookings. Typically, those experts have liberal arts backgrounds, which helps them make the data (literally) more palatable to busy restaurateurs.In his book, Anders describes how software companies are increasingly creating a need for people with a “modicum of technical literacy,” people who can translate data, show a bigger picture result from snippets of information and basically get people on the same page. “Let’s dub this ‘the rapport sector,’” he writes.

Similarly while AI and smart robots give many people the jitters, the Gartner research group now predicts that by 2020, AI will create more jobs than it destroys. Yes, AI will whack some jobs, Gartner says. But people adapt, too, and figure out how to do different work building on what the robots can do. (Education hint: That cycle parallels education’s “SAMR” model: First technology “substitutes” for an old practice, then it “augments” the practice. As educators “modify” and “redefine” their practices, they see students gain the most from using tech.)

Gartner prognosticators expect that through 2019, health care, the public sector and education will continue to see growing job demand while manufacturing jobs will sag. But by 2020, “AI-related job creation will cross into positive territory, reaching 2 million net-new jobs in 2025.” McKinsey’s crystal ball gurus agree: “Automation will have a lesser effect on jobs that involve managing people, applying expertise, and social interactions, where machines are unable to match human performance for now.”

Creativity, managing people, communicating–all the skills that classic liberal arts educations stress–will continue to matter. So go ahead and dip into a classic book or museum. Inspiration from the liberal arts for out-of-the-box thinking may be just what you need to win that next great job.

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