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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The age of the agile mind

    Matt Stonecolumnist
    Matt Stone
    columnist

    Registration for spring classes begins this weekend, and it would behoove the wary student to studiously consider the ins and outs of which classes to take. The global war for the agile mind is on – and professional success is contingent upon being best prepared.

    One of the hot stories of the past five years has been the growing wage disparity between skilled and “”unskilled”” workers (a misleading moniker since, indeed, every job requires a skill of some sort). American chief executive officers currently earn, on average, 300 times more than the typical worker. With the introduction of huge labor pools in China and India, wages have failed to rise for lower class Americans, while wages for skilled workers are rising dramatically.

    In line with typical economic theory, the wages for skilled workers have risen (and will continue to rise) because the supply of talent does not meet worldwide demand. Unemployment among American college graduates is currently running at 2 percent, a paltry figure – and that is even before the baby boomers start to retire. Necessarily, the balance of power between worker and employer is rapidly shifting in favor of the former.

    Enter the footloose talent elite. Based in Singapore, Dubai, New York, London, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, Tokyo and elsewhere – and frequently hopping between these locations – these influential business leaders are often youngish, passionate, innovative and always multitalented.

    McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm that hires only from this talent elite, carves up the American job market into three categories: jobs that require “”transformational”” skills (raw material extraction or manufacturing), “”transactional”” skills (jobs that can be easily automated) and “”tacit”” skills (jobs that require sophisticated interactions with others and independent decision-making).

    Departments actively
    discourage students from doing something other than the ‘typical’ track, from something unorthodox. It is unorthodoxy, after all, that inspires innovation.

    Not surprisingly, the talent elite populates the “”tacit”” skills category. More surprising, however, is that up to 40 percent of the American job market is now comprised of “”tacit””-type jobs. Since 1998, seven out of 10 jobs created in the United States have been of the “”tacit”” variety.

    With all this new growth in a particular job category, companies are increasingly engaged in a fierce struggle for the best and brightest minds. A survey by the Corporate Executive Board discovered that 88 percent of companies want to pay their best workers more and their least talented workers less in the hopes of cutting costs while keeping the best minds at the company.

    For the typical UA student, this is a siren call for the diversification of one’s skills. Companies no longer want to see new hires who know how to think in one direction. They want individuals who can meld various strains of thought to form comprehensive solutions – the kind of risk-taking and entrepreneurialism embodied in the “”tacit””-type jobs.

    This may mean studying Mandarin Chinese, picking up a second major (engineering would be a strong choice), landing a professional internship in Bahrain or volunteering with community organizations. Companies need workers who understand foreign cultures, languages and business practices; workers who think “”outside the box”” to innovate new solutions and workers who are eager to continue their education beyond graduation.

    The tools to prepare for entrance into this dynamic job market are available at the UA, but they often get buried in the university’s nightmarish bureaucracy. There is no reason an engineering student should not be able to enroll in political science 465 – International Politics of the Middle East – or that a business student should not be able to trek across India for a semester conducting substantive research on Third World venture capital.

    These kinds of valuable opportunities are available to students, but departments actively discourage them from doing something other than the “”typical”” track, something unorthodox.

    It is unorthodoxy, after all, that inspires innovation.

    Interdisciplinary education, internships, study abroad – these are necessities for a college student in our fast-paced world, but the university does not do enough to promote these very things. More money – public or private – needs to be directed at scholarships for study abroad. Departments ought to encourage students to pursue complementary majors. The UA should be trying to place students in the choicest internships in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York – or further: New Delhi, Moscow, Shanghai and Buenos Aires.

    We live in a demanding world, one that demands extremely agile minds. It’s up to the UA and its students to fit the bill.

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

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