Landing a job in a complex world
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
What good are the humanities? Why read literature, discuss ideas or write anything? What return do you get by spending time and money on classes about these things?
As a naïve lad trying to find my way in the world, my humble goal was world peace within 10 years, and studying the humanities was my ticket to that dream. My conviction was based more on hunches, hopes and wishes than on concrete information. (“The Little Prince” taught me to be wary of numbers, hard science and other such “adult” endeavors that might stifle my imagination.)
For reasons having nothing to do with career prospects, I wanted to think for myself. I yearned to know how to find reliable sources of information and to read widely on issues, synthesizing my own ideas and opinions.
I didn’t want to derive my opinions from the easy answers often provided by the news, by conventional wisdom or by conspiracy theories half-baked in an oven of paranoia. In light of how much fear, confusion and distrust abound, I am happy to have the tool of critical thinking helping me decide what to believe and what to take with a barrel of salt.
Now I realize these exact skills are the ones most in demand on the job market, in the widest variety of fields. Science and math can get you well-paying jobs in highly specialized careers. But our world is changing so fast that careers often prove to be chimeras.
For example, in 2008 learning to be a financial analyst was considered an express ticket to affluence. Now that the recession has deflated investment banks, this field is a vocational dead end. What a drag to spend years studying something that has moved or disappeared during the time you were learning it.
On the other hand, service jobs requiring a variety of cognitive skills provide the brightest prospects for employment in the 21st century. If you can read and summarize information, synthesize ideas and organize your thoughts, you can do research for almost any organization in the world. If you can think outside the box, you can be a driver of innovation in your workplace.
If you know how to listen with an open mind, you can provide clients with a vision that inspires trust and optimism. If you can communicate in another language, you can work better with colleagues or expand your service to other countries (where the world’s most rapidly expanding markets reside). These are absolutely essential skills in today’s globally integrated economy.
Here’s the catch: We have to learn these skills. Just as physicists learn to bounce molecules off each other, or as chefs learn to make world-class lobster bisque, we have to get training in how to do these things. It is the humanities that invented this kind of training. Now more than ever, the humanities are the world’s repository of all this important know-how.
Adrian Fielder is instructional chair of humanities and social sciences at Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Spring Valley. Classes begin this week.
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