Marc Lautenbach, a managing partner in global business services with IBM Corporation, started the panel discussion with the reminder that millennials are the first generation with the potential to have a lower standard of living than their parents.
With this statistic in the current economy, it’s not surprising that parents are concerned that their children choose majors with clear career paths and high earning potential.
Students attending liberal arts schools with strong writing programs have an advantage. “The number of college graduates who can write well is shockingly small,” Lautenbach said. Young people with writing skills have a significant advantage in the marketplace.
Panelist John McConnell, CEO of Wake Forest Baptist medical center stressed that medical schools are looking more favorably on students who come from non-traditional pathways. He also talked about the rapidly-growing allied health care field and the opportunities for physicians assistants and nurse practitioners — who will be providing more primary care services going forward. “We won’t be able to train enough people for these jobs,” he said.
Donna Boswell, a partner with the international law firm Hogan Lovells, emphasized the need to offer appropriate career guidance to students who think they want to be corporate lawyers. While legal firms are looking for well-rounded, critical thinkers, she noted that new corporate lawyers are expected to pay their dues with long hours and less than scintillating work. “You have to know that you are passionate about corporate law to succeed,” she said. “Otherwise, you will be miserable.”
When asked what advice she would give students interested in pursuing corporate law, Boswell said that an understanding of corporations and an empathy for business people is critical. “Look at different kinds of legal venues if you don’t like business,” she said. A fairly recent challenge law students face is that changes in global competition and technology mean legal firms can no longer offer extremely high-paying positions to law school graduates. There is a growing need to offer scholarships to offset this.
What are the critical success factors that students need when they graduate? President and CEO of VF Corporation Eric Wiseman said the ability to lead and the ability to communicate are top. Though these skills can be developed in any discipline, Wiseman said that liberal arts institutions must be willing to help guide students before they choose a major — providing data on what kinds of jobs alumni with a particular degree have pursued and what they are earning.
Liberal arts graduates who are teammates and consensus builders and are willing to take initiative will do well, said Wiseman. “But universities must help students to unlock the value of their education,” he said. “We all know that the kids we are interviewing are smart. We are looking for the hook. How will this person add value to our company.”
— Guest post by Kim McGrath,
Wake Forest Communication and External Relations,
from the “Rethinking Success” conference