College grads with well-packed parachutes

The class of ’19 brings resilient skills into a job market hungry for workers who think critically.

Students at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville prepare to walk to their graduation ceremony May 18.

By the end of the 2018-19 academic year America’s colleges and universities will have handed out nearly 3 million associate (two-year) and bachelor’s (four-year) degrees. And nearly a million more students will graduate from advanced master’s and doctoral programs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

For those headed into the job market, the news is good. A low unemployment rate, driven in part by baby boomers exiting into retirement, should make the job hunt easier than in recent years.

What kind of graduates are today’s employers looking for? Those educated in STEM-related fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are in high demand. They’ll step into work that will shape innovative areas from robotics and artificial intelligence to genetic engineering.

Parents who’ve paid high tuition fees and students who’ve racked up loan debt can be comforted that these STEM graduates will likely jump into well-paying jobs. For many graduates, in fact, paying down debt will be a top priority: According to research conducted by Bloomberg, student loan debt hit a record high of $1.465 trillion in December 2018.

Yet STEM prowess isn’t the only skill employers seek. Liberal arts degrees are bankable as well. Employers complain they have a hard time finding hires with “soft” skills. Ninety-three percent of employers, for example, say that the ability to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems – abilities honed in liberal arts courses – are more important than a graduate’s major, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Graduates will still face doubting elders who question whether they’re up to the tasks needed in the workplace. Not so, says Purdue University’s Brian Leung in a recent newspaper essay. Today’s young people are a generation toughened by events from the threat of school shootings to the looming threat of global warming. These “students demonstrate themselves to be resilient, engaged citizens who have learned the importance of calling out injustice,” writes Professor Leung, director of creative writing in Purdue’s English department.

His confidence is echoed by Simon Peck, group managing director at Engine, a marketing and advertising firm in London. He writes that not only are younger people “more socially, ethically, and environmentally conscious than their predecessors – this is the generation that coined the term ‘woke’ after all – they’re also more independent thinkers, willing to disrupt the status quo in favor of a more sensible solution, be it dating apps over dinner dates or Airbnb over hotels.”

Wherever it may be, finding a secure spot in the 21st century economy is an important step for graduates. But as this year’s myriad graduation speakers will no doubt echo, students who go on to do their part to make the world a better place will bear the true mark of a life well led.

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