College Isn’t Job Training

College isn’t job training.

I’ll probably be detained in an airport now for uttering such heresy, given that many college students think they’re preparing themselves for “careers” and colleges encourage them to think this. It’s sad to consider it, really, because so many people, once they’re out of college and launched in these careers, spend a lot of time complaining about their jobs, their bosses, the commute, co-workers, deadlines, the company’s policies, salaries and all the rest. It’s sort of terrible to consider that college skills training is preparing you for a career you can spend the rest of your life complaining about.

Of course there’s more to complain about these days—lack of jobs, the promise of instability, the increasingly unlikely prospect of home ownership. Depending on your outlook, these may seem like the least of our future problems. A college education that’s been aimed at preparing a workforce of “skilled” workers to sustain business-as-we’ve-known-it is launching crops of graduates ready for a professional world that seems to be behind us.

I realize that sounds gloomy and critical, but I assure you I’m neither. Personally, I think there’s a better future ahead, one that’s accountable to things that matter (health, knowledge, ecosystems, community) and not as beholden to things that don’t (pursuit of inestimable profit, multi-national conglomerates, optimizing cheap labor). It’s going to take time, courage and character to transform us, but it is coming.

Readying our entire culture for such an overhaul requires courage, clarity of thought, optimism, commitment, creativity and a willingness to challenge the status quo. It also requires patience, fortitude and sacrifice. These kinds of abilities and qualities aren’t “skills” you pick up in Marketing 301 or Advanced Linear Programming. There’s no “job skills training” for what we need to help us find our way out of this financial morass and onto a better economy.

What’s needed for that are people who are educated, not skills-trained.  We need a workforce prepared to deal with the unknown, rather than people who must correctly predict an outcome. We need vision and imagination, an understanding of the shared human experience. Most of all we need clarity, a willingness to recognize and embrace an idea that may be very different from what we’ve relied on in the past, and the ability to separate substance from drivel (which may be the opposite of training in Marketing, which promotes the idea that drivel is substance).

Students of the Liberal Arts are prepared with an education they’ll be putting it to use in an economy no one yet can envision. Liberal Arts students are less likely to be thrown by the kind of uncertainty that’s ahead because their forays into understanding the driving forces of history, culture and human motivation are preparing them to deal with uncertainty.

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