Opinion: There's a world beyond STEM that will help make you employable
Liberal arts could be your passport to career opportunities in the changing global economy. Source: Shutterstock

It’s natural that international students are choosing to study STEM subjects in 2018. We’re surrounded by new technologies at every turn, on top of medical breakthroughs, increasing engineering needs and scientific research – but as automation takes hold, your employability may no longer lie in the industry.

The field of STEM is around us all the time, from checking our notifications when we wake up to microwaving our dinner before bed. So, when you are about to part with thousands of dollars and years of your life, it feels like a natural choice to follow the world we live in and gain the skills employers will value the most.

A whopping 45 percent of international students are taking this path, choosing to study STEM subjects in an attempt to understand and influence this industry.

STEM subjects are still  popular among international students. Source: Shutterstock

But when you look at the current trends in STEM, it becomes clear the jobs in these industries may soon no longer be here. Already, automation is replacing accountants and lawyers, Artificial Intelligence  (AI) is set to interview for job positions and robots are being trialled to complete surgery.

It suddenly becomes apparent that studying STEM subjects to learn these skills may not actually lead you to the graduate career you dreamed of.

According to a report by Dell, 85 percent of the jobs that will exist by 2030 have not yet been created. The economic landscape will revolutionise over the next ten years, so following a degree path that leads to a specific career could be a one-way ticket to unemployment.

But, by studying a liberal arts degree you give yourself the chance to gain skills in numerous fields, develop creative thinking, problem-solving and analytical mindsets and have a broad range of knowledge you take with you beyond graduation.

A liberal arts degree essentially allows you to study a range of subjects often from numerous departments, rather than the classic minor/major programme in the US or single/joint honours structure in the UK.

And with automation promising to replace human hands doing repetitive tasks and data analysis, it is likely that jobs created will value human skills over memory recall and straight knowledge.

“In such a world, a well-articulated liberal arts and sciences programme equips students with tools to continually adapt to new conditions, challenges and opportunities – students should be ‘liberated’ or free to pursue a combination of disciplines rather than be straight-jacketed into one stream of study,” Sunder Ramaswamy, Vice-Chancellor of Krea University, wrote in an op-ed for the Hindustan Times.

We know our society is going to progress and morph in ways we cannot predict, so graduate skillsets need to reflect this.


As Thomas Friedman put it in his book, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, “In an age when parts or all of many jobs are constantly going to be exposed to digitization, automation, and outsourcing…it is not only what you know but how you learn that will set you apart. Because what you know today will be out-of-date sooner than you think.”

But, of course, choosing a degree programme is not always as easy as following your dreams. If your parents are supporting you financially, they’re likely to be skeptical about how a liberal arts degree could serve you better (read: make you more money) than a medical or engineering degree.

There’s no hiding the fact that a liberal arts degree is not going to get you the paychecks of a dentist, doctor or city banker immediately.

But there’s also no guarantee dentists, doctors or city bankers will be jobs at all by the time you graduate.

There’s also no limit to the career doors open to you with a degree in liberal arts. By following this degree path, you’ll have the ability to enter almost any industry while gaining the skills to climb the career ladder.

It’s always difficult to make a decision that breaks the norm, and it may even seem like you’re choosing to swim upstream from your peers studying STEM, for lower returns. But when you look at the progression of the graduate career market logically, the only thing that can be predicted is that nothing can be predicted at all.

In this case, applicable skills and a broad knowledge base will be invaluable to adapting to the future job market, helping us lead society to its new horizons.

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