Liberal Arts, Educated Individuals Offer A Range Of Talent
To A Fast-Changing Workplace
By Ed Kanis
With the graduation season upon us, students everywhere will be
crossing high school stages to receive their diplomas.
For many, that walk is merely a first step in securing their
future through education. Soon, they will be trotting off to
colleges near and far to prepare themselves for a world that now
seems limitless with possibilities. For some, the unlimited
possibilities can be as frightening are they are invigorating.
One critical choice that will confront students is selection of
a major course of study. Aside from giving their parents comfort in
knowing they have opted for a major -- although the likelihood of a
change or two is great -- students are making a choice that carries
immense implications. In their eyes, they are making a major life
decision that could predict the success of their careers.
When queried at a local high school career day about what course
of study to pursue in hopes of preparing for a lifelong career, Ron
Crouch, director of the Kentucky Data Center, reminded his audience
that there simply is no skill or program a student can learn for
life. That fact is reinforced if you put your faith in the
futurists who believe 90 percent of the knowledge available to us
in the year 2020 does not yet exist. Clearly, this situation calls
for adaptability and the capacity for lifelong learning, two
hallmarks of a liberal arts education.
Today's employees face a work scenario that in all probability
will entail multiple job (and even career) changes as technology
makes traditional ways of doing things obsolete. A student armed
with a solid foundation in the liberal arts is equipped to thrive
in this environment. Rather than train for a specific job -- one
that very well may not exist in the years ahead -- students
educated in the liberal arts are prepared to adapt to new
environments, to think analytically and conceptually, to integrate
broad ranges of experiences, and to assume leadership roles.
While liberal arts graduates often obtain lower entry-level jobs
in many industries, they tend to outdistance their peers in the
long haul. The executive suites of businesses and organizations
nationwide are populated by a disproportionately large number of
men and women educated in the liberal arts.
Ian Rolland, former chief executive officer of the Lincoln
National Corp. stressed in an interview in Personnel
Journal that "specialists function very well in early years of
their employment, but as they advance into management, unless they
make a conscious effort to broaden themselves, their narrow view of
the world often becomes a limiting factor in their
Businesses large and small thrive on employees with talent,
commitment and the ability to learn. They need people who can read
and write well. They need men and women who can recognize, define
and analyze a problem, who can research and synthesize solutions,
and who can present and evaluate the results effectively.
Those are the talents individuals educated in the liberal arts
bring to the table, skills that will only increase in worth as the
pace of workplace change escalates.
This piece was prepared for Dr. Robert Gervasi, dean of
McKendree College (Kentucky campuses) and ran in Business First,
June 4, 1999.
The author has served as an instructor, administrator and
consultant for several institutions of higher education in
Kentucky, Indiana, Virginia and New Jersey.