Liberal Studies


Liberal Studies

Choosing A Course

Cleveland Plain Dealer | Business Section, Page B1
Monday, May 29, 2006
ALISON GRANT Reporter | | 216-999-47587


High school and college students wrestle with the question: How should I prepare for the world of work? What will be there for me five, 10 or 30 years from now?

These days globalization and technology are making sure bets scarcer.

The John J. He1dnch Center for Workforce Development, a Rutgers University hotbed of research on training workers to fit employer demands, has just a few guesses about long range, safe-haven jobs.

"One is being a judge," Director Carl Van Horn said, "and the other is being a professor. Other than that, there really isn't any stability in careers and occupations."

"There's really no good answer in terms of specific jobs," agreed futurist Dick Samson, director of the EraNova Institute in Mountain Lakes, N.J.

Joyce Giola and Roger Herman, partners in a Greensboro, N.C., workplace consulting firm, say students will hold jobs in their lifetimes that don't exist today.

Forecasts like that can be paralyzing to someone weighing choices such as what courses to take and what to major in.

Still, workplace experts think there are moves that can smarten a young person's chance of landing a high- potential job in the future:

  • While picking a major is important, accomplishments such as study abroad, campus leadership and community involvement have become the "linchpin" between the academy and the workplace, said Tom Matthews, director of the Career Center at Case Western Reserve University.
  • A formal liberal arts education could be the best undergraduate path because it gives a broad, interdisciplinary background that is increasingly attractive to employers, Gioia and Herman say in a recent report on future careers.
  • It's possible to increase the "width" of your skills by understanding the competition, said Paul Kline, director of the Career Services Center at Cleveland State University. Students going into elementary- or middle-school teaching, for example, might want to get certified as special-education teachers, too.
  • All workers, including those not going to college — only 30 percent of adult Americans have a bachelor's degree, after all — should keep upgrading their skills as much as possible, and move on to a new job as quickly as they can when an old one peters out, Van Horn said.

Even so, nimble and persevering workers can be overtaken by employment trends in the 21st century. David Leeds of Euclid knows firsthand.

Leeds, 52, has shifted gears through four distinct occupations in the past 10 years.

He was an aircraft instrument repairman for J-Air Inc. in Richmond Heights in the 1990s. He was a computer programmer for Insurquote in Beachwood, then an audio-visual technician at the Cleveland Health Education Museum and now is a locksmith at Allen Lock and Key, the last such Store in Cleveland Heights.

Leeds expects his boss will have to cut his hours in coming months because rent and insurance costs are forcing him to shut the store and operate the business solely out of the track he uses to make house calls.

"I'm tired of living from pillar to post," said Leeds, who advises students to learn computers and Chinese and to "make all the [people] connections they can get."

Samson thinks automation will be so far- reaching — he noted that New York Presbyterian Hospital already uses a robotic scrub nurse named Penelope to handle surgical instruments — that developing what he calls "hyperskills" will be important.

People will have to leapfrog the technology that's displacing them by accentuating "meta-mental" abilities that are uniquely human— creativity, invention, discovery and compassion, Samson said.

"To a large extent, students are on their own, because educational systems need to pay much more attention to these skills," he said. "Especially in high school, the curriculum is so test-oriented and testing is all skewed to repeating stuff back that is already known."

Samson's advice is to "take the system with a grain of salt and create your own education."

Cara Stepanczuk, 22, did just that as she shaped an academic program that fit the interests she sounded out in college.

Counselors at the CWRU Career Center encouraged Stepanczuk to explore what she liked to study in class. "That really helped me to narrow down," she said.

At one point she dropped a major in business, for example, when she eyeballed the list of courses left for the major and decided she didn't want to take any of them.

She graduated last week with a double major in English and economics and a job as a research assistant at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. She starts at the end of June.

Van Horn, the work-force expert at Rutgers, said that, like Stepanczuk, he would confront the dizzying array of choices and vast uncertainty with a simple plan.

"If I were a student in college today, I would pursue what I'm interested in and good at," he said, "because a lot of what makes people good at work is their enthusiasm and passion for what they're doing."

engaged learning
Mailing Address
Cleveland State University
College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences
Liberal Studies Program
2121 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115-2214
Campus Location
Rhodes Tower 1329
1860 East 22nd Street
Dr. Laura Wertheimer, Director
Phone: 216.687.3920
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