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The benefits of a Liberal Education

UCL Careers1 September 2015

Recently in the Financial Time’s John Kay explored the benefits of a liberal education. He argues that with the advent of technology and in particular of search functions, it is the ability to sift and synthesise information that is an essential workplace skill – one that a liberal arts education develops within  it’s graduates.  

UCL Graduation 2008

Kay  states “writing newspaper columns, running businesses, managing assets and advising clients in legal disputes are activities whose primary demand is synthesis. The ability to make connections between disparate sources of information is more critical than detailed familiarity with any specific source.”

In the USA the liberal arts are under attack with  subjects such as history and English  in decline –  some states are severely reducing their taxpayer funds available for liberal arts subjects.

Fareed Zakaria based in New York, is  the author of a new book “In defence of a Liberal Education”. He  grew up in India and is a CNN anchor reporting on international affairs  . “I get it,” he writes, recalling the atmosphere in India which was obsessed with getting a skills-based education, however  the skills developed by a liberal arts education “how to write clearly, how to express yourself convincingly, and how to think analytically”  are, he suggests,  immensely valuable in their own right.

He does not dismiss skills based education. “Engineering is a great profession, but key value-added skills you will also need are creativity, lateral thinking, design, communication, storytelling, and, more than anything, the ability to continually learn and enjoy learning” -precisely the gifts of a liberal education.

Kay concludes his article with the view  that in a an  ever-changing world,  job specific skills may become  outdated within a few years, so one aspect of education is to  “equip students to enjoy rewarding employment and fulfilling lives in a future environment whose demands we can neither anticipate nor predict.”

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– Kate Woods, Careers Consultant, UCL Careers

Does Amazon hate the people that work there? Lessons for choosing your future employer carefully!

UCL Careers24 August 2015

On 15th August, the New York Times published a damning story about the way Amazon treats its employees throughout their organisation.

Amazon Cat - Creative Commons/Stephen Woods/Flickr.comAmazon Cat – Creative Commons/Stephen Woods/Flickr.com

 

Here are a few of the practices that ex-employees expose in the article:
–       In order to find the “right” way to do things you are encouraged to openly challenge your colleagues. It creates a combative environment.
–       An expectation that you will work late and on weekends and take part in conference calls on holiday.
–       An Anytime Feedback Tool which allows employees to send praise or criticism about any other employee to management.
–       Staff who were sick; women who had children; and a staff member who wanted to reduce their hours to take care of a sick parent were told that these events were interfering with fulfilling their work goals.

There has been A LOT of reaction to this through the week. I am not writing to draw any specific conclusions about Amazon, I will leave that to you. I thought it was a good spring board to suggest some ideas about how to choose the right place to work.

In the interests of balance, I have included 2 links to share the other side of the story. A rebuttal from an existing employee and a memo to staff from the CEO of Amazon, telling staff to email him if they are experiencing “such lack of empathy”.
> https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/amazonians-response-inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-nick-ciubotariu
> http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2015/08/17/amazon-coms-bezos-replies-to-stinging-criticism-on-workplace-policies/

Ideas on how to evaluate a future employer:
– Take time to understand what is important to you, so that you know what to look at when evaluating an organisation.
– Speak to existing employees. Reach out through LinkedIn to see if you have anyone in your network. I find that people are generally very willing to talk.
– Look at sites such as glassdoor.co.uk which often include profiles of employers with comments from people who have worked there.
– One great tip I have seen is to go to the business loctaion on a Monday morning and see what the body language of staff there tells you!
– If you have got an interview, remember that this is still a good time to evaluate an employer. This is the organisation on its best behaviour (or should be) so consider what this tells you about how they might treat you if you get the job.
– Don’t be blinded by the perks that they publicise. What do they expect in return and how does that fit with the level of commitment you feel comfortable offering?
– Ask why the person you are replacing is leaving! You might need to read between the lines here!!
– Get an internship or work experience. Also know as ‘try before you buy’!

Its not all bad news, some employers are testing looking after employees as their route to success.

Netflix recently announced paid (at your full salary level) maternity/paternity leave for the first year of your newborn or adoption. This is in addition to unlimited holiday!

And this CEO took a gigantic paycut (from $1M to $70,000) in order to give his staff a higher minimum wage.

Happy investigating.

Trevor Bibic, Careers Consultant, UCL Careers