Degree alone won’t be enough

Ryan Johnsoncolumnist

Ryan Johnson
columnist

Ryan Johnson

I had traveled to Europe, Central America and South America before this past summer, but when it comes to experiencing the full velocity and force of globalization, there is nothing like Asia.

From the mammoth shipping docks off of the coastal cities of China to the bullet trains of Japan to the eclectic mix of old world and new world in Thailand, you can feel the continent growing. And I didn’t even get to the country that’s going to change the most over the next 10 years, India.

Among the younger generation of these Asian countries, there is an air of optimism and ambition (gathered from friends who can speak the languages, of course). All that optimism is both the result of and the impetus for hard work. Young Asians are not going to settle for their parents’ jobs. They want ours.

As I sat in a sleeper car traveling from Beijing to Shanghai, I was reading “”The World is Flat”” by Thomas Friedman. Call him a generalist, but he is right on top of what’s happening in our world.

Increased competition from foreign workers looking to take our jobs. Increased effort from computers looking to eliminate our jobs. Increased pressure from CEOs looking to constantly reduce costs, such as our jobs. We’ve heard it all before.

But one fact still sticks out to me. Aside from all the cost savings of moving jobs from the U.S. to Asia, the companies that do so also get a productivity boost. Ask any CEO who’s chosen to outsource labor, research or design to Asia, and you’ll hear the same thing: U.S. employees don’t work as hard as their competitors.

Contrast the young generations in Asia with the countless UA students who actively avoid work – the ones who will search out the easiest classes until they graduate and hope they have a job waiting for them.

I asked the students hanging out at the Park Student Union one afternoon why they thought they’d be qualified to get a job when they graduated. Almost everyone was under the impression that by simply earning a degree they will be somehow entitled to a job. But this is different from our reality, which is one of constantly proving that we deserve to be paid more than the next person.

Indeed, if there’s one thing I realized during my summer traveling across Asia, it’s that a lot of UA students are in for a rude awakening in the job market.

Once, a Sam Levitz furniture store saleswoman told me she had been a communication major at the UA. She said her degree “”isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.””

Apparently she had hoped to be doing something more than selling me a futon. But she was right on one account: We aren’t judged based on our degrees anymore. No, we are judged based on the knowledge and skills we’ve accumulated, on how we can create value for an organization and perform tasks cheaper than the next person.

At the UA, professors still face an onslaught of students determined to take the easiest classes possible. It’s easy to feel sorry for the professors. Unless the class is required for a major and there is only one section, the professor is competing against classes with no homework, easy tests, no finals and even days of no class at all.

Here’s some advice for you freshmen. Don’t fall into this trap. The people with whom you’ll be competing for jobs later in life sure don’t. Pick classes and majors that are going to give you the skills needed to get good jobs and be productive throughout your life.

We’re in a world where our skills can be commodified and sent to Asia, so it’s more important than ever for us to be good at learning, and to be good at what can’t easily be sent abroad.

There are no jobs waiting for you just because you finish your degree. An employer will see right through it – if not immediately, then early on in your career.

This means you need to choose more challenging classes. And if you’re in one of the dumbed-down classes, you need to do more than the work required to just get an acceptable grade.

Start a project, talk to the professor, read extra books on the side. Young Asians do, and employers notice these things.

Learn the easy way or the hard way. The choice is yours.


Ryan Johnson is a senior majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu