Last week I talked to a college student who told me she wasn’t sure what career path she’d be taking when she graduated in two years. She was an English major, so naturally I joked that she was studying to be an “Englishwoman.”
It’s long been a dilemma for liberal arts majors: What do you do when you graduate? What kinds of skills do you have that will impress a prospective employer?
If you’re not going into teaching or moving on to law school, your options may be both vast–you can apply for almost any job–and at the same time, limited because you may not have any particular skills, other than some intellectual and organizational prowess, as well as a perseverance in getting through four years of college.
This problem has now been exacerbated by the advent of the Internet age.
Good, dependable, reasonably well-paying jobs are going by the wayside.
Some may soon become extinct.
More than 100,000 postal workers will soon be laid off. Who honestly thinks the US Postal Service has a business model that will last into the next decade? It’s been killed by email and two leaner businesses, UPS and Federal Express. More layoffs are bound to follow, and those jobs won’t come back.
How about travel agents? Why should we go to them when we can get the same deals, probably for a cheaper price, online?
Your neighborhood stockbrokers? Why go to them for $150 a trade when you can execute the same transaction, online, for $10 or less?
Realtors? With a little research online, you can find what you need and surely cut your fees.
Bankers? Almost everything can be done online these days, and interestingly, the bank tellers at my bank–a massive, old building where four customers qualifies as a crowd–frequently remind me that I can bank online. It’s like they’re cutting their own throats, but of course, that’s what management requires of them.
Retailers? Every year, we’re told, more and more of us are buying our merchandise online. There’s no reason to expect that trend to change.
Now, of course, there are some businesses that require bricks-and-mortar: grocery stores (although even that is not entirely true), restaurants, and movies (but in an era of Netflix and monstrous home movie screens, maybe not).
And there are still many of us–older folks, I suspect–who like face-to-face contact and a personal relationship with someone who’s selling us something.
But the times, they are a-changin’, my friend. Today’s 20-year-old who’s grown up Internet savvy will probably have little trouble taking care of most of his business–banking, stocks, realty, retail–on line when he’s 40.
Which means most of those traditional service jobs will have gone away.
The problem for that 40-year-old in the year 2031 will be, What job will he have?
That takes me back to my bright-eyed and eager English major. She mentioned possibly looking toward journalism (Stop!!) or teaching, and of course we all know how plentiful those jobs are these days and how well regarded teachers are in today’s poisoned political atmosphere.
My advice to the English major? Be flexible and be open to new possibilities and new jobs that may not even exist now. And also gird yourself for some tough times because we now have an economy that structurally is sick as it tries to cope with a profound economic and technological revolution. A simple jobs bill or deficit reduction bill won’t be much help.
Damn, if only there were such a job as an “Englishman.”