College and Career

Is a STEM Employer Looking for Your Liberal Arts Degree?

September 25, 2020
stem jobs for liberal arts degrees

Guest post written by Marla Keene

When the Great Recession ended a decade ago, it marked the beginning of a boom for STEM degrees across the USA.   According to EMSI, the number of students seeking STEM degrees increased by 43% between 2010 and 2016, a time when humanities degrees were beginning to slowly decline. 

If you’re a liberal arts student you’ve probably heard this kind of data before from well-meaning parents or family members.  Maybe they’ve pushed you to consider a ‘more practical’ degree in a STEM field. They may have even implied that in an increasingly technical job market your competitive edge after graduation relied on having a STEM-based degree.   But is this actually true? 

Possibly not. 

As it turns out, not all STEM graduates end up working in STEM fields.  The same can be said for humanities and liberal arts majors.   In fact, according to The Humanities Indicators project, 2015 data showed 7.9% of all humanities majors had worked in some sort of STEM-related career during the previous five years.  

While a Bachelor of Arts degree won’t prepare you for a job as an electrical engineer, a liberal arts education will provide many of the skills technical companies are looking for as they hire for  many key positions.   Here’s why a liberal arts degree can help you land one of these high-paying STEM jobs. 

STEM Employers Need Your Skills

stem employers

When you think of STEM careers, you probably think of engineers, IT professionals, or healthcare workers.   These jobs require specific and specialized skills.  But companies who employ these workers also employ managers, writers, administrators, and office workers.  These jobs need applicants who can communicate effectively in person or in writing, have problem-solving skills, and know how to work as part of a team as well as they do on their own.  

They also want employees who offer flexibility and a continual desire to learn.   STEM fields are changing at a rapid pace; those who show they can adapt to these changes have an advantage.  This puts liberal arts majors in an ideal position for many jobs, since liberal arts programs are specifically designed to foster curiosity and perpetual learning. 

In some specific cases, it’s imperative for employers to build teams where the soft skills built through a liberal arts education meld with more traditional tech ones.  For example, as companies work to develop artificial intelligence models they must consider the ethical ramifications of that work.  This creates a need for team members with backgrounds in sociology, religion, or philosophy who can guide AI development through the ethical minefields of this new technology.  

COVID-19 Has Changed the STEM Job Market

Many STEM markets are now having to deal with the implications of COVID-19 to their supply chain and business model.  In the case of manufacturing, for example, this means many businesses are looking to diversify their revenue streams by offering digital and aftermarket services, as well as by reshoring (bring production back to the USA from overseas) as much of their sourcing as possible.  Deloitte’s midyear predictions indicate this will mean changes to how businesses source materials from upstream partners as well as significant changes to how businesses interact with those who use their products and services. 

These trends offer numerous opportunities to workers as companies retool workplaces to meet the challenges of the new work environment.  This includes new positions in compliance, worker safety and satisfaction, remote collaboration, and social media marketing, along with expanded use of smart technologies like wearable sensors and digital twins. 

While this may not sound like the ideal opportunity for someone with a liberal arts background, these changes mean new opportunities in worker training and compliance that require graphic designers and writers to create training manuals, administrators to oversee programs, and extra office workers to maintain records of information created. It also creates many opportunities within management and human resources.   These jobs can be filled by support staff who don’t necessarily have technical degrees. 

A Little Training Now Exponentially Improves Your Value Later

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Liberal Arts Career Outlook publication, those seeking liberal arts degrees can increase their qualifications for STEM careers through additional training or classes.  This includes taking technical or business courses that will supplement current skills.  

These courses don’t necessarily have to be within a traditional classroom setting since future employers are often more interested in what you know than what’s on your transcript.   Companies like Coursera offer online courses that are significantly less expensive than a traditional college class.  This allows you to broaden your skill set for little more than time invested.  Additionally, Google offers a number of free courses, including coding, online marketing, Python, and analytics. 

Graduates can also look for opportunities to build skills through experiential learning opportunities.  Don’t be afraid to apply for internships or part-time jobs in STEM-related fields that can make you more marketable later.  

Don’t Rely on a Label to Find a Job You Love

Starting out a career is as exciting as it is scary.  Taking those first steps into your career can be intimidating.  But with a little planning, you’ve got everything it takes to make the most of these years.  

Just remember — it’s important to forget the labels and consider every career path open to you.  If you have the skills and the company culture is a good fit, don’t let the STEM label deter you from applying.  You might be exactly what the employer  is looking for.  You shouldn’t take yourself out of the running for a potentially great job just because of a label. 

About the Author

Marla Keene writes for AX Control, Inc, an industrial automation parts seller. Her articles have been featured on Dronelife.com, JaxEnter.com, and in Servo Magazine. Marla was a music major in college. She owned and operated a bookstore in her hometown for over a decade before becoming a writer.

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