One old colleague of mine used to say that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t. (This was followed by Beker’s corollary: there are 10 kinds of people in the world–those who get binary and those who don’t.)
Timothy Burke, an associate professor in the Department of History at Swarthmore, wrote an interesting post yesterday in which he divides the world of work (all 20,000 titles in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles) into two types of jobs–Cool Jobs and Everything Else. In writing about the job prospects for new liberal arts graduates, he touches on the unpleasant reality that plagued my conscience during my years as a career counselor:
Right around September, a lot of last year’s graduates from liberal arts colleges are discovering that they appear to be qualified for approximately none of the jobs that they might actually want to have.
As Tim notes, few colleges are very forthright about acknowledging the fact that most postgraduate jobs aren’t very glamorous. The alumni review articles tend to focus on the folks that become Assistant Travel Editor for the Bride Magazine Honeymoon issue rather than on those who become an assistant terminal manager at the local Rodeway Express hub.
One of the ways we fail students is to let them spend four years and tens of thousands of dollars without helping them spend at least some time thinking and writing about where they might fit into the world when they graduate. It wouldn’t corrupt our liberal arts curriculum too much to require that students apply some of their critical thinking skills to identifying and articulating their passions, strengths, values and then trying to understand sorts of jobs in the economy that match as as closely as possible. Ideally process of matching their interests with jobs in the real world would happen while they were still in school and could do something about it if there were a mismatch.
There are a few cool jobs, and obviously there are lots that suck big time. But there are lots of jobs that fall clearly in between those poles. Some parts are cool, so aren’t, but they need to be done and someone is going to get paid to do them. There’s something missing from our educational process when 21 year old graduates aren’t more knowledgeable and realistic about their own economy.