People who graduate from engineering schools and economics departments find more support in the world of work, which needs the skills they have to offer. Graduates of Industrial Engineering or business administration programs have a high percentage of market incorporation in their first year after graduation, as well as more stability in the long term. But why? What do they learn in these tracks? What are engineering and business administration skills like?
The in-demand ability to be versatile
Traditional education after the Industrial Revolution has seen almost two centuries of specialization as a goal. This made a lot of sense in a relatively static world, or one that was accelerating through specific innovations that had been around for decades. In a innovative, disruptive, ever-changing environment, where trends become obsolete relatively quickly, there is another set of skills that complement that specialization: versatility, big-picture thinking, and general knowledge.
A study published in December 2021 by researchers at the University of Michigan entitled, ‘College Majors and Skills Evidence From the Universe of Online Job Ads’ points out that companies demand all kinds of skills, but there are a handful of those skills that appear much more frequently in job postings. What are those highly in-demand skills? In order:
- Cognitive skills
- Social skills
- Project management
- Organizational skills
- Software knowledge
- Customer service skills
- Knowledge about computers
- Financial skills
- Writing or copywriting
- People management
LinkedIn’s annual report on the most in-demand skills, which is unfortunately divided into regions, highlights transferable skills, which are those that can be used in a wide range of situations.
A report by EY and Future for Work entitled, ‘Spanish companies facing the re-skilling revolution‘ highlights professionals who are capable of recycling themselves on their own or with business support. Practically all high-demand skills are contained in engineering or business admin in some form; some skills and job structures “do not sufficiently encourage professional retraining” due to their specificity or rigidity.
A fourth study, this one by McKinsey entitled ‘Defining the skills citizens will need in the future world of work,’ points out the need to “continuously adapt to new forms of work and new occupations” with a focus on elements like mental flexibility, planning modes of work, developing workplace relations, or taking on or understanding digital systems. When they highlight the skills that will stand out the most, they point to adaptability, dealing with uncertainty, and being able to synthesize.
Within specific fields, the most in-demand skills are the most specific – for example, in nursing, the best staff are those who can best deal with health tasks — in all fields, those general skill sets are also needed.
What subjects are part of these majors?
Engineering and economics, along with computing and studies related to human resources not far behind, are degrees that can be called ‘versatile.’ However, it is possible, and in some ways advisable, to specialize over the last two years or through a master’s degree; standalone degrees usually provide quite wide perspectives.
For example, in the first year of almost all technical engineering majors, a wide range of subjects and techniques are offered; even though students will largely never use these, they do allow them to access new knowledge. Other subjects include physics, chemistry, programming, electronics, algebra, calculus, and industrial drawing. The second year branches out into thermodynamics, physics, mechanics, differential equations, machines, various statistics courses, electrical engineering, experimental design, electromagnetism, and systems dynamics. They cover basic, general information from many branches of knowledge. The specifics will come years later.
Something similar happens with business administration in other fields: it touches on such seemingly distant topics as financial accounting, history, law, statistics, business management, economics (micro and macro), various branches of mathematics, international institutions, investment theory, multi-level statistics, taxation, and marketing. Far from dealing with knowledge in a single pillar, these are quite extensive and offer a very stable general basis to understand a wide range of jobs and functions.
The in-demand ability to be versatile
These majors are recognized as being versatile and highly employable, as shown by the location quotients from the ‘College Majors and Skills Evidence From the Universe of Online Job Ads’ report – “ratios that allow comparing the distribution of employment in an area by industry, property, and size class with the distribution of a reference area” according to the American Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The graph shows the skills related to several degrees and two lines that highlight what’s most in demand. The more scattered the skills in the graph, the more specific the degree. The advantages of non-specific careers include big-picture thinking, the ability to understand a little of everything, even if not in-depth, and being able to act as a link between specialists who do have specific skills.
In a certain sense, these degrees could be said to impart ‘wildcard skills’ with very solid bases of general knowledge. It is not surprising that, in Spain, with data from the Adecco Group, 10.6% of jobs that prefer a university degree seek out business admin graduates, and 4.6% seek out Industrial Engineering grads; these two degrees cover much of the demands for job positions.