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That used to be the punch of the joke about what liberal arts majors will be doing after college? You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

For those who are the butt of this joke (maybe not English majors), the tide may be turning…or at least there is a glimmer of a real shift in traditional thinking.

According to an Association of American Colleges and Universities survey of chief executives, 74 percent of C-level respondents recommend a 21st-century liberal arts education in order to create the dynamic workers needed for the modern workplace.

This report brought into question why everyone is getting their knickers in a collective twist over STEM skills or the focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

Is the proverbial paradigm shifting? Maybe not.

The Economist recently reported that once again the way-too-low U.S. allotment of 85,000 H-1B visas for the best-and-the-brightest technology Wunderkindern from overseas (mostly East Asia and the Subcontinent) were snatched up in the first five days of April. Recognizing this paltry number, some technology trade associations are lobbying to raise the H-1B visa cap back to 195,000 annually, but it is tough sledding in the face of predictable opposition from organized labor.

At the same time, the national unemployment rate (measuring only those who are actually looking for work) remains stubbornly high at 7.7 percent, and it does not include the millions of underemployed Americans.

How many contradictions can you count in these reports?

There is an increased demand for articulate and talented graduates in the written and spoken word. Does that mean that our digitized society should not put so much time, treasure and effort into STEM?

And yet we need to import those particularly adept in science, technology, engineering and math from overseas…because there is a talent shortage in this area.

Let me ask: Where are the Americans?

There are literally 14 million…give or take…who are unemployed and underemployed…and recent reports indicate that only 50 percent of those with college degrees or some degrees are finding work.

And yet there are obvious shortages for STEM-winders and now (gasp) liberal arts graduates…and what seems to be a permanent, unacceptable unemployment rate.

Got that?

At the risk of being completely off base (wouldn’t be the first time), let me offer that education should be seen as the answer, albeit there are no guarantees. At a minimum, a graduate with a bachelor’s degree or better yet, a master’s degree is better positioned to compete in today’s lifelong learning society.

NYSE_Building,jpg

Consider that the venerable New York Stock Exchange has 2,304 listings. The “Big Board’s” edgy competitor, NASDAQ, has 2,784 listings. Together, there are more than 5,000 publicly traded companies in the US alone that are required by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) to report quarterly earnings releases, issue annual report letters, hold choreographed shareholder meetings, and send out any “material” news on a crash basis that could influence investor buy, hold or sell decisions.

These mandated disclosures alone are testaments to the need for liberal arts graduates with an understanding of how business works to fulfill these requirements.  These complex announcements about how a company makes money and competes cannot be effectively outsourced. Not only are there thousands of corporate jobs supporting these disclosure mandates; there are thousands more at public relations agencies and trade associations that are related to these activities.

And let’s not forget the public relations/marketing supporting the sale of the products and services these companies create and offer.

Reflecting upon my years as the Director of Communications for the Semiconductor Industry Association and as the vice chair of its Communication Committee, I distinctly remember our efforts to stimulate more middle-school and high school students, particularly young women, to pursue careers in engineering. That of course meant more math and science. There was no engineering Michael Jordan to serve as a role model.

We obviously have more work to do.

And when it comes to fast food, McDonald’s is offering university-style training for those who want to start flipping burgers and eventually working their way up the corporate ladder to the C-suite. Reportedly, only one out of every 15 applicants is accepted.

Yep, there may be a day when liberal arts graduates are not electing to “receive” when it comes to a javelin throwing competition. The ability to write well, speak well and tell the story well should always be in demand.

http://www.cnbc.com/id/100642178

http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21575782-how-hurt-economy-needlessly-not-working

http://www.economist.com/news/international/21576656-degree-burgerologyand-job-too-fries

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