4 Reasons Not to Underestimate Liberal Arts Students in Tech

June 19, 2015

7:00 pm

There’s not enough talent to keep up with the IT industry’s growing needs. There are about five million open jobs in the United States, according to White House estimates, and more than half a million of these openings are in IT. More professionals are needed, and the tech talent pool is running dry.

Image Credit: Flickr/Jens Schott Knudsen

Employers will need to look for new sources to fill their talent gaps. Where will this talent come from? Look to liberal arts students.

This is not a joke. Although students studying humanities have been long ridiculed for their lack of practical work skills, their well-rounded education may be just what the tech industry needs. The future of tech will require individuals with varied creative, analytic and people skills.

Here are a few reasons why liberal arts students may be able to fill the tech industry’s need for talent:

People skills

Technology is slowly replacing more and more jobs with automation. A 2013 report from Oxford university estimated that 47 percent of US jobs are at risk to be replaced by technology. The jobs that were the least likely to be automated were those that required people skills. Social workers, physicians, and teachers will still be needed, despite advancing technology.

The ability to work with and relate to other human beings isn’t a skill that can be adequately automated. Liberal arts students learn communication skills, awareness of other cultures and emotional intelligence. These skills will be important in the workforce as a whole and in tech careers.

Analytical skills

Programming, coding, and other technical skills can be taught to aspiring tech professionals, but teaching critical thinking isn’t as simple. Analytical skills are needed in tech to evaluate new programs and innovate new technology — those skills are harder to find.

Liberal arts students, however, are taught to look critically at art, literature, history, and other areas throughout their education. Students are required to synthesize information, analyze it, form their own opinions, and challenge traditional beliefs. New views are debated through discussions and papers, training students to analyze evidence to arrive at a claim. Liberal arts students learn how to think critically, which is one of the most needed skills in a fast-paced technology industry.

Creativity

Tech isn’t only made up of coders and developers who do the heavy technical lifting. Creative types are also needed to continue to drive innovation, improve user experience, and find new solutions to problems. In a 2013 survey conducted by Hyper Island in 2013, 78 percent of leaders in communication, tech, and business surveyed said personality was more important than skills, in employees, and creativity was among the top three desired personality traits.

Liberal arts students may be naturally more inclined to creative thinking, and are well-educated in creative works. Many may be dedicated to their own creative hobbies such as painting, creative writing, or playing a musical instrument. These hobbies can actually make them better employees, a small study published in April 2014 in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Therapy  suggests. The study found that professionals who frequently participated in creative activities scored higher on workplace performance rankings than those who only did so occasionally.

Liberal arts students can bring new creative insights to the IT industry.

New opportunities, new education

Despite major efforts, increasing the number of students interested in STEM careers is still a challenge. Instead of pressuring students to study tech in school, students can now pursue a more well-rounded education and come to tech through a variety of new training and education methods.

The english major struggling to find a job may recognize the vast amount of opportunities available in tech, and go after certifications and training programs to become qualified in the field. The White House’s TechHire initiative is fueling nontraditional tech education opportunities including coding bootcamps, online courses, certification programs, and partnerships with community colleges. Liberal arts students will use their academic abilities to quickly learn tech skills and apply them in workplace settings.

Although the traditional tech professional will continue to thrive in IT, don’t be surprised when liberal arts students arrive on the scene. Welcome their unique skills, and watch what these underrated students can do.

What do you think? Can liberal arts students make good tech employees?

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Tim Cannon the vice president of product management and marketing at HealthITJobs.com, a free job search resource that provides health IT professionals access to nearly 2,000 industry health IT jobs at home or on the go. Connect with Tim and HealthITJobs.com on LinkedIn.

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