King’s Academy students and parents attended a talk on Monday given by Dr. Angel Pérez, vice president for enrollment and student success at Trinity College, who discussed with them how a liberal arts education helps prepare students for the rapidly evolving 21st century job market.
After an introduction by Headmaster John Austin, Pérez described the goals of a liberal arts education – which he said were the same as King’s goals as a liberal arts high school. That is, to produce well-rounded individuals that develop their full potential as human beings by providing opportunities for breadth and depth of study in a variety of academic subjects including literature, philosophy, mathematics, and social and physical sciences.
The 21st century job market, according to Pérez, is characterized by unprecedented change and technological transformation, and up to a third of the jobs that the current generation of students will have do not exist yet.
To make his point, Pérez drew on examples of companies that did not exist 15 years ago, such as Uber, Facebook, Shake Shack and Air BnB, but which have made a significant impact on how those industries do business, in addition to employing hundreds of thousands of employees around the world.
“So,” Pérez asked, “how do you prepare an entire generation of young people for jobs that don’t exist yet?”
One way is for colleges and universities to keep their finger on the pulse of the quickly changing job market and adapt accordingly. They must also teach students how to make thoughtful decisions about the trajectory of their lives and empower them with the resources to do just that, Pérez explained.
Research shows, however, that only 27 percent of college graduates are working in the field of their major, and that today’s students may have held between 10 and 14 jobs by the time they are 38 years old.
Which is why, according to Pérez, there is “no better time than now to be educated in the liberal arts curriculum,” as it provides young people with the skills they will need in the different jobs they are going to have.
Critical thinking, writing, analyzing, data quantitative communication and research skills are all part of a liberal arts education, and make up a skill set that is transferrable for the rest of a student’s life. By learning these skills early, noted Pérez, today’s students will always know how to get the information they need to take on and adapt to new jobs.
“Liberal arts is the way we can prepare young people for careers for the rest of their lives,” he explained. “Liberal arts colleges aren’t just supposed to prepare you for your first job, they are supposed to prepare you for your last job.”
Talking to parents and students at two separate sessions, Pérez said that it wasn’t only jobs and companies that are changing, but also employees. The young people of this generation, “Generation Z”, do not just want jobs, he said, they want careers with purpose and meaning. Studies show that students say they would rather take a pay cut to work for a company with a mission they care about; they want a job that will help them make a difference in the world.
Companies are paying attention to this, said Pérez, noting that many companies are focusing on hiring employees that fit their mission. Colleges and universities are also paying close attention, as they need to help students do that.
“Liberal arts colleges teach the study of human nature, society, belief systems, adaptability to change, innovation and ethics; all things today’s students will need throughout their life,” said Pérez, discussing some of the ways that liberal arts colleges and universities prepare students, such as through internships and “purposeful” work programs that help students identify what they are passionate about and what they want to do in the future.
“There is no better time to be a young person in this world,” Pérez assured students. “You have an extraordinary amount of opportunities ahead of you.”