This blog reflects on life at work at comments on the latest news that shapes my 9-5 working day in a Corporate Communications consultancy.

About Me

I am a born and bred South African who has always loved to read and write. As a child my mother used to read to me and my siblings, from classics like the “Lord of the Rings” but later also from her own stories. She would write children’s stories and then use us as her test audience, but I loved to hear what she had written long after my siblings had tired of it. So I grew up in an environment of reading and writing, which inspired my love of these things. I hope to write a great book some day, and have learnt first hand the determination and will that it takes. My love of English inspired me to continue my study of it at university. I majored in Law and English in a BA degree at UCT where I found that I took to English much more than law. I enjoyed learning about South Africa’s history and the development of our liberal Constitution, which increasingly made me committed to the hope this country has for the future. Ideally, I’d like to find myself in a job where I am able to write; that allows a good mix of time spent with people and being able to work on my own.

Thursday, 07 June 2007

Thoughts from our “Grow Tomorrow’s Leaders” Workshop

During the WOW course we often discussed how we felt university life left us unprepared for life at work. As graduates on the job hunt, it feels like a bad thing. But a lady at the “Grow Tomorrow’s Leaders” workshop on Saturday didn’t think so. She argued that the role of the university is not to churn out a long line of worker bees who all look and think the same. Universities exist to create knowledge capital and intellectual thinkers. As Professor Mbigi put it in his seminar, if we just look for jobs, we may as well not have spent all these years studying. We have not been turned into workers, but rather into people who can thing beyond this and identify problems that need to be solved. As Mbigi advised, a career built around a problem will be lasting. (In Kuseni Dlamini’s session Temi mentioned that varsity makes employees and not employers - so this point is debatable.)

Mbigi also caused much laughter when he said his business degrees had not been of any use to him. Although he currently lectures at business schools, he feels that the Humanities training is much more valuable. I suspect what he values most is the critical thinking skills and broad general knowledge base he built up. As humanities graduates we pride ourselves on our analytical skills, but we need to learn how to use it in a way that the world will value. During the tea break, a management consultant was discussing his use of academic ideas in the workplace. If approached a client and said, “Yes, I see you have a problem here. Marx identified it in his theory of liminality, and he suggested you do X, Y and Z”, they wouldn’t have much time for him. Instead, he needs to identify the problem and tell them how to solve it. Knowing Marx’s theories may help him to identify and solve the problem, but his employer doesn’t care about how good he is at discussing it. In the world of work it’s the results that matter.

And although we may feel like it’s a long hard road to secure employment now, it may not last. Someone else I was chatting to mentioned that in the long term, she’s noticed that humanities students don’t have too much difficulty finding jobs. It may be more tricky in the beginning than for others, but once we are in the marketplace, we generally have more success than, say B.Com graduates. Her comment is obviously a generalisation, and only based on her experience, but it’s still good to know. A great way to apply our critical thinking skills now will be to look at the bigger employment picture, and think about problems to build our careers around.

Meeting the professionals on Saturday’s workshop was encouraging. It’s especially valuable to talk to people who have come from Humanities backgrounds and have made their own successes – it helps to remind us that there’s hope for our career futures!


Ijeoma Uche-Okeke said...

Susan, very interesting thoughts. For me there is no hard and fast rule. Sixty percent success really depends on how you manage your abilities and how you fit/position yourself into the work place. I think as you say the beginning is the most difficult part, once it can be overcome...... However, we have certainly benefitted a lot from interacting with individuals who have experience of the corporate world.

Valentin said...

Dear Susan, I completely agree. Definitely, Humanities student sometimes experience difficulties finding jobs or internships after they graduate.
However, as you say and as we discussed a couple of times throughout our seminars, Humanities students possess certain set of skills that students from other faculties do not necessarily have.
I am talking about their (our) ability to think critically and analytically, to be problem-solvers and above all, to be CREATIVE (as you remember from Roy Blumenthal's insightful session).
And these are skills that could be applied to any job or sector indeed.