This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

November 23, 1999

Liberal Arts vs. Technology vs. Specialization

38 days until January 1, 2000
404 days until January 1, 2001

Employers are in a quandary, hampered by their own paradigms. They need competent workers, but they're not sure who to recruit. On one hand, they need specialists with particular knowledge or technical skills. On the other hand, they need people who think creatively and operate comfortably "outside the box." And they want all applicants to have strong computer skills for a variety of purposes ranging from word processing to analysis and forecasting to process management.

Should employers seek graduates with specialized concentrations or the students that have gained a broader education and background studying topics that have little to do with the employer's business? Or should they pursue people who haven't graduated from college, perhaps who have never attended college? How much capacity should new hires bring with them? How much should employers anticipate providing through corporate training programs or subsidized education?

While managers argue that they need people with technical knowledge, background, and experience, there simply isn't an abundant supply of those candidates. Prospective applicants often lack desired capabilities in management, interpersonal relations, and team creativity/problem-solving. Corporate universities are becoming more prevalent, and we forecast that they'll become even more ubiquitous in the future.

The demand for liberal arts graduates will increase. Employers are discovering they can train these generalists in various specialties, and that these workers have a sufficiently broad background to be able to change career emphasis relatively easily. This flexibility enables employers to move valued employees into new positions, new work, with brief concentrated training on the new specialty.

The Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges has developed a certification exam to measure problem-solving and technology skills of liberal arts students. This test could serve similarly to the CPA exam; so far, it has the same pass rate. More information:

We also see a movement to recruit people who have not earned college degrees. Quite often they posses the willingness to learn . . . and employers have the capacity to teach them. More employers will "grow their own" superstars, who will stay with the company for the continual growth and opportunity.

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