In an Unpredictable Job Market, How Should People Think About College Majors?

I tell my students that if what they want is specific job skills, they should learn how to lay cable or get a Class-2 rating to drive a P-5000 Power Loader. But the specific job skills I teach a freshman or sophomore may be out of date by graduation day.

Rather than teaching students how to use a particular piece of software, I want to teach self-sufficiency and critical thinking; I want to reward self-motivation and problem-solving.

If I were working for a boss who wanted 15 10-page research papers, it would be a heck of a lot easier for me just to write them all myself and collect my paycheck. Or I could do all the planning and write out careful, step-by-step instructions, and hire underlings who are really good at following instructions.

Instead, my job is the much harder task of training people to do this work on their own. So I don’t tell students what to write (or what to think).

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 2.44.19 PMLam: So what are employers actually concerned about when it comes to fresh grads?

Cappelli: What they say in the surveys about graduates or young people is that the kids aren’t mature enough. That’s not exactly new. A lot of this goofy generation stuff is really just that, it’s older people looking at younger people saying, “Kids today!”

Lam: What is maturity defined as in this context?

Cappelli: Conscientiousness mainly: Show up on time, work hard, care about what you’re doing, be a self-starter—it’s motivation basically. —The Atlantic