Technological advancements have been swift and staggering, ranging from the rise of the now ubiquitous smartphone and social media’s hyper-connectivity, to robot-driven manufacturing and corporate office computer systems that automate job positions once held by humans.
As a result of these and other expansive technologies, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) occupations are widely in demand, yet other fields are also growing, albeit for different reasons. Domestically, an aging population has spurred healthcare occupations, and, separately, an unruly general population is fueling growth in the prison industry. More broadly, the world’s economies are increasingly intertwined, dampening purely interstate commerce and creating demand for international businesspersons.
Global Business Careers
Regarding global business careers, Michael R. Cooper, dean of the college of business and public management at Union-based Kean University, says, “As all colleges do, we hold open houses, and the most common thing parents ask is: ‘Will my son or daughter get a job?’ That’s what’s on their minds. And the answer to that question is: First, business – when coupled with liberal arts or sciences – enhances the possibility of getting a job. But, within business itself, global business – with the experiences we provide – is the No. 1 in-demand area, and everybody who graduates from [our global business] program will have multiple job offers at salaries higher than other disciplines. That’s why we are opening up global, because it is practical and it is quite real.”
Thankfully, English is the lingua franca in much of the world, and – perhaps surprisingly – experts say that students need not learn a foreign language to succeed in many distant locales. However, the ability to deeply understand foreign cultures, local practices and business customs is crucial. A poor understanding of the “do’s and dont’s” in China, for example, can lead to career failure, or – if one inadvertently violates a law in that communist country – prison.
Cooper remarks, “All of the professors who I hire are foreign professors, not domestic professors. We teach cultures and how business is done in key cities, as part of our management course. And, of course, when students are overseas with the global practica, they learn first-hand (through the management of the company they are working with) customs, culture and practices. They absolutely need to know them. I have been to China many times. Early on, I almost got thrown in jail for doing something I had no idea I could get thrown in jail for. It truly is a communist country, and it’s a tough job, so you had better know what not to do. We emphasize culture and ways of doing business quite heavily.” Germany, Panama and Australia are also noted locations for international business career opportunities.
Often, obtaining employment abroad requires that graduates demonstrate firm knowledge of their areas of expertise, as reflected in stellar academic records. In addition, hands-on experience and the ability to deal with a foreign company’s issues, is key.
Cooper quips, “If you have good grades and you have experience in certain areas, I guarantee that you will get a job.”
A Global Education
Perhaps since the United States’ inception, our citizens have often focused on American issues, and even today, well-paid Manhattanites might be more versed in the intricacies of Ferguson’s race relations or the 2016 presidential race, compared to grasping the dynamics shaping the European Union, Africa or the Far East.
While mastering a foreign language, again, might not make-or-break an international businessperson, he or she must nonetheless have a thorough understanding of foreign affairs and markets, in order to thrive. If a person is not already devouring the world’s news publications, beginning to read The Economist, Harvard Business Review and Germany’s Der Spiegel is an appropriate starting point.
Not all students will become globe-trotting businesspersons, and while the United States’ labor market remains uncertain, opportunities certainly exist here. James W. Hughes, distinguished professor and dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, is a noted economist with a solid reputation for understanding New Jersey’s economy within the context of the nation and the world. He advises, “[Overall] guidance for young people is to beware of areas that can be easily outsourced. In addition, know that the jobs that can’t be done by machines – at least now – are types that require personal interaction. That includes a whole range of service jobs that really have to be done face-to-face.”
On this point, Teri Corso, director of career services and student employment at College of Saint Elizabeth (CSE), seems to concur, saying, “Knowledge work gets shifted, but there are other jobs now to support those shifts. Some things are just not going to change: I don’t think we are going to have automated mental health counselors anytime soon, who are going to be dramatically effective.”
Indeed, most aspects of healthcare, ranging from healthcare administration and nutrition, to allied health and nursing, for example, will likely remain strong as the Millennial Generation begins to care for the aging Baby Boomer and Silent generations.
Joseph Ciccone, vice president of academic affairs for the CSE, says, “With an aging population, we are looking at ways to keep them healthier for longer periods of times. And there’s demand in the health-related careers for positions in which you address the needs of the elderly, giving them an appropriate lifestyle to the very end, if we can.”
Separately, CSE’s Corso also cites the United States’ enormous prison industry, and that for-profit companies are seeking candidates for both its business aspects and for incarceration-related counseling-type positions. She adds, “More and more, here in New Jersey, we are eventually going to have to figure out how to provide rehabilitation, because we won’t have enough room in our prisons.”
The Value of a Liberal Arts Education
Labor market demands can rapidly change, and, therefore, focusing too heavily on specific growth areas can be deleterious to one’s long-term career prospects. Indeed, the “jobs of today” might be very different from the “jobs of tomorrow.” While trend lines exist, unforeseen disruptors, (think: the Internet, mobile technology, the Great Recession), can re-work the labor market in a matter of months – if not overnight.
In this vein, Peter P. Mercer, president of Ramapo College, explains, “A general liberal arts education focuses not on specific vocational skills, but on the type of skills training that can be extrapolated across vocations and jobs, and which includes: the ability to communicate orally and in writing; and the ability to analyze a set of circumstances, and to reason through them to a conclusion that best suits the problem. In that respect, it is an education that goes well beyond the 21st century. It is traditional education in the arts and humanities, which has always served people well. In fact, when I speak to employers, now, they will regularly say to me: ‘Don’t make the mistake of attempting to tailor your curriculum and the type of education you offer to the technical aspects of my business. I can do that. What I need is somebody who can write a clear memo, or who can speak in a meeting and make himself or herself understood. I need people who can engage with customers, clients and fellow workers – and who can work in teams. I need people who can analyze a set of circumstances and problems, and find the solution to the one that has presented itself.’”
Mercer adds, “Many people think a liberal arts education is so general, that it is obtuse: That is doesn’t have any fixed points in reality. That’s quite wrong. We have a very extensive internship program. The point of our internship program is to give students the opportunity to apply the skills they are learning in a hands-on way.”
While it is true that a liberal arts education and associated critical thinking skills will likely hold value in the future, another axiom is that technology – which literally touches every aspect of our business and personal lives – will become increasingly complex in this century.
Referring to the entire job market, Rutgers University’s Hughes, explains, “We don’t have a clue what are going to be the hot, new jobs 10 years from now. For example, in 1992, there wasn’t a forecaster alive who predicted the Internet would be an economic locomotive by the late 1990s. In fact, most forecasters didn’t even know what the information superhighway was. But, the Internet, and that whole high-tech capital investment boom in the late 1990s – that’s how fast the technology advanced, and it created all types of jobs related to the Internet. Who knew what a website was, in 1992, or, that website developers would be a major job category within five to seven years?”
Regarding technology, whatever iteration it takes in the future, skilled persons will be needed to design, repair – and depending on how advanced automation technology becomes – perhaps operate its systems.
For Gregory C. Mass, executive director of career development services at Newark-based New Jersey Institute of Technology, “STEM is everywhere.
“However, when one researches the subject and goes to various publications or websites, the information is contained. If one ‘Googles’ the ‘Top 10 Best Careers’ or ‘Top 10 Jobs of the Future,’ STEM-related disciplines – or industries that hire STEM graduates – will typically consume eight or nine of the top 10 positions. That’s been a sustained progression for the past half a dozen years, and it is projected to maintain those positions for many years to come.”
Mass says he often used the phrases “IT everything” and “IT everywhere,” and he explains that IT-related careers cover a host of disciplines. IT is a discipline unto itself at a number of higher education institutions (including NJIT), and it has various branches, including: information systems, which is aimed at applications development and usage (the practical and business application of the computer world), and computer science, which focuses more on programming, coding and software development.
While computers are indeed “everywhere,” Mass adds, “We are seeing tremendous interest and growth this year in Internet security. Computer security systems are – I would say – the fastest growing demand at this time, given all that is going on with leakages, espionage and hackers getting into retail sites and stealing lists of clients and personal names. The need for secure environments is more pervasive, particularly in the defense sector. In retail, [criminals] can destroy economies and individual businesses, and put clients at risk who utilize those services. When you are talking about hacking into national defense systems, it is a whole different ball game.”
Mass notes that for students majoring in Internet security and network systems, there is a high demand by organizations such as Cisco, for example. In fact, this year NJIT already has had three of its graduates receive offers of close to $100,000 a year, at the baccalaureate level. These graduates will travel to the West Coast to begin new jobs at Cisco.
Dr. John O. Aje, dean of the school of applied science and technology at Trenton-based Thomas Edison State College, echoes some of Greg Mass’ sentiments: Technology is here to stay, and many STEM fields are in demand.
Of note, Aje explains, “In New Jersey, between August 2012 and August 2013, the state actually had the largest increase (about 5.2 percent), of job openings in technology-related fields. New Jersey is a very big area for employment; for the kind of thing we do in this school. Again, we are talking about the largest increase, here, compared with other states in the region, including Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York, etc. There are a lot of opportunities for students who [attend Thomas Edison State College] to gain employment within New Jersey, even though they can work somewhere else, [if they choose]. Since we are a New Jersey state institution, it makes us feel good to be able to provide this kind of opportunity for students.”
Perhaps today’s ideal job candidate would be well versed in technology and global affairs, and able to navigate the world’s cultures and customs with ease, all while having excellent communication skills, poise and critical thinking skills. While this may be true, it has also been said that true success arises from combining one’s character (honesty, integrity, hard work, loyalty) and innate talents (spatial relations, mathematics, etc.), with a career path that ignites a passion in one’s heart, yet also generates enough income for the necessities of food, housing and retirement planning. All told, a person who disdains mathematics might be happier as a mental health counselor or nurse, as opposed to attempting to climb the ladders of computer science or global business. Whatever the case, New Jersey’s higher education institutions are poised to help students of today and tomorrow meet the demands of the world, however those challenges might manifest themselves.
Returning from two out-of-state conferences where she discussed the value of her mathematic degree from Vassar College and how colleges could change the way math curricula is taught, Sabrina Schmidt, a data manager at Time. Inc.’s Parsippany office, says links to businesses, and between students and faculty, need to be enforced because there are “surprising fields where math is being used, today.”
Participating at a forum of the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences in Reston, Virginia, and at the Transforming Postsecondary Education Mathematics conference at UCLA, Schmidt tells New Jersey Business, “A lot of students are interested in math, but when they enroll in math courses, they become discouraged because they are not actively learning about math’s [career] connections.
“The perception is that math majors go on to become professors, get their PhDs or go to Wall Street, but there are so many applications for math, especially with technology and the way social media and the Internet are taking everything over,” she says.
In her job as a data manager, Schmidt is responsible for ensuring retail stores around the country receive the appropriate number of Time Inc. publications and the publications of companies that have partnered with Time to take advantage of its distribution know how. “A lot of what I studied in college was theoretical, abstract and proving theorems, but I use the same methodical, logical and analytical way of thinking and apply it to real data and numbers on the job,” she says.
She adds that the high-level concepts that seemed, at the time, abstract to her while in college, “really do have a connection to growing fields, such as national security,“ she explains.
To improve math education, Schmidt says “curricula need to be more data driven and statistics needs to be enforced more. Math departments should work alongside some other related departments, like computer sciences, physics, biology, economics, engineering, etc.”
She also says there are too many lecture-based courses during one’s first two years of studying math, where the student-to-teacher ratio is “very large.”
“A lot more colleges are now turning away from that and are having students work in smaller groups and having professors be more interactive,” she says.
Schmidt graduated from Vassar in 2010 with a BA in Math and Italian. She received the Phi Beta Kappa prize from Vassar, which is awarded to the graduate with the most distinguished academic record.