This month, university students across the country are being tested on their chosen field of study. As if the exam season weren’t stressful enough, final-year students also have to deal with acute cases of so-called employability anxiety.
This generation is already described as the “most anxious in history”, so adding extra stress makes for a potent cocktail.
It isn’t difficult to see why so many soon-to-be-graduates are lying awake at night, worrying about the future.
The headlines paint a picture of an employment wasteland and an economy in free-fall, to say nothing of the thick cloud of uncertainty that swirls around Brexit. Then there’s the drumbeat of stories that relate all the ways in which millennials have something wrong with them.
Despite this atmosphere of gloom, the tech sector – consistently reported as one of the most desirable among graduates – is in rude health. In fact, in May last year, the UK became the world’s top fintech hub. Total venture capitalist investment in UK tech surpassed £6bn over the course of 2018.
It was reported in February that the number of new technology companies launched in the country rose by 14 per cent in 2018, and that was distributed among almost every region in the UK. And though of course many startups fail, it’s suggestive of the health of the sector and the optimism surrounding it that so many people are willing to turn their ideas into businesses.
This, you might think, will hardly soothe the jangled nerves of those studying the humanities or anything that might come under the heading of “liberal arts”. But this isn’t so.
Indeed, what were once dismissed as worthless degrees are in high demand in the tech sector. George Anders, a former tech reporter at Forbes who was “consumed with this idea that there was no education but STEM education”, changed his mind when he spoke to hiring managers at companies like Uber.
He told the BBC that “Uber was picking up psychology majors to deal with unhappy riders and drivers… Open-table was hiring English majors to bring data to restaurateurs to get them excited about what data could do.”
Communication, social fluency, and critical thinking – skills developed particularly well through studying the humanities and liberal arts – are highly desirable. Steve Jobs once said that Apple operated at “the intersection of technology, the liberal arts and humanities” – and that company seems to be doing pretty well.
It’s worth noting that liberal arts is probably the oldest educational programme in western history. It was once believed to develop the qualities essential for a free person – hence “liberal”.
Five years after Barack Obama called a humanities degree useless (he later apologised), hiring managers at some of the world’s top companies are understanding the hidden virtues of these subjects and looking specifically for those with a degree in them.
This may have something to do with the way that tech is flowing into other industries. We think of Amazon, Uber or Airbnb as tech companies, but it won’t be long until we see tech merely as the vehicle by which almost all industries operate.
The fourth industrial revolution will do nothing if not blur lines, and the tech aspect of any given company will be taken for granted and seen as something that all companies and industries use as the means by which they do business.
Put simply, to say that “tech” is booming while other industries struggle fails to tell the whole story – almost every major industry is contained within tech.
None of this is to say that the anxieties of those about to graduate are unmerited. Exams are difficult and stressful. So too is the job hunt.
Nonetheless, the future looks bright for graduates.