With only 55% of millennials employed–the lowest percentage since World War II–there is a pressing need to pinpoint the reason behind this depressing statistic. After all, with this generation being the most educated, surely we all should be able to find employment, no matter what the economy is. The consensus seems to be that if millennials are struggling, there is one reason: they don’t know how to choose the right college major.
It makes sense to me that professional track majors would yield higher employment statistics as there is often a clear path and clear opportunities. This does not mean that those who chose liberal arts majors are doomed and I think the focus on college majors reinforces problematic thinking around careers:
1. It implies that careers are linear. There are jobs today that didn’t exist years ago. As a result of the weakening economy, we’ve realized that there is no such thing as economic security, prompting the rise of slash careers and side hustles. In other words, the market is different and the older approach of school –> job –> career simply doesn’t apply any more. This is especially true if you are interested in public service careers where a linear path never really existed.
2. It reduces college to job training. I majored in sociology and that is a small component of my college experience. I took some fabulous courses–some in subjects I was just curious about. I spent nine months in South Africa. I started blogging. I had great internships. I grew my network. I created an experience that simply made me interesting and more competitive. And this is the beauty of college. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many leaders across sectors–from Wendy Kopp to Mark Zuckerberg–started their innovative, groundbreaking businesses in college. In college you have choices and can build yourself up in a way that’s not always possible outside of the ivory tower.
3. It ignores the importance of excellence and self-determination (and implies that jobs are given, not earned): Excellence and self-determination are key no matter where you are in your career, however they are especially important when you are just starting out. No matter what you do, do it well, and do it with purpose. Very few of us know exactly what we want to do when we graduate from college, yet you can still put your best efforts into your work and reflect on the skills, networks, and opportunities you have now earned as a result of that work.
So instead of harping on majors, why don’t we focus on integrating stellar career support programs into colleges? Why don’t we expose people to opportunities and encourage them to act on these possibilities?