11 March 2016

STEM vs. Arts? The need for graduates to be 'work ready'

There has been a LOT of talk about the usefulness of certain types of degrees which typically pits the Sciences, Maths, Engineering and Technology (STEM) against the Social Sciences, Arts and the Humanities disciplines. As a socio-cultural anthropologist, I often find myself fighting to articulate the skills and benefits of my degree having been categorized as one of the more social of the sciences.

Yet, it's occurred to me that STEM degrees do not get away scot-free from having to articulate their usefulness to their graduates, employers, and the public.

A recent report spoke of the need to have more graduates who have "skilled digital talent" for the purpose of leveraging digital technology. The report goes on to argue that these graduates, and their talents, will be most useful for medium sized businesses (SMEs) because SMEs "have limited means to train or find a job-ready workforce to respond to the fast changing reality of the global economic landscape". From the perspective of an educator, their call to "ensure that new graduates have the practical knowledge and skills they need to enter the workforce quickly and add value to Canadian businesses" lays the professionalization of students at the doorstep of STEM disciplines. Like 'Arts' disciplines, some of those STEM disciplines have been teaching with more traditional academic ideals, rather than (only having) professionalization and skill-based outcomes in mind.

This revelation (likely only for myself) has got me thinking about the potential opportunities for collaboration with my STEM colleagues for the purpose of sharing what some feel is the increasing burden of the professionalization and skills-training of students.