The Problem with Having a Literature Degree in 2016

Recently I attended the Annual Job Expo at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Part of the aim of this event is to expose students, especially those in their final year, to employers who are looking for fresh meat and minds to come and boost their company’s development.

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The environment is usually full of desperate (and sometimes immature) youngsters like me who don’t particularly like the idea of a busted A/C sputtering over their heads and being trapped at a boring desk decorated with loosely organized files. Everyone usually seeks out job offers that promise fun activities. In rare cases, some will succumb to the only companies willing to take them in, merely because those companies need more employees and are willing to pay despite your lack of experience. It’s in situations like these that a person with a Literature degree is likely to find themselves.

As I weaved my way through the crowd, visiting each booth, I couldn’t help wondering which of these companies would actually hire me. I’m in my final year, supposedly the final semester in the scheme of things (should I pass all my courses) but I still don’t know the answer to the traditional, “What are you planning to do with your degree?” So instead of drafting a satisfying answer, I set out to ask the representatives at the Expo what positions they think they had that could suit me.

The outcome was as expected. I got raised eyebrows and stutters of “Ah… well. Hmmm…”

The problem was not that there’s absolutely nothing I could possibly do with my Literature degree, but rather that employers themselves don’t even know what the degree requires from a person. Someone hears the word ‘Literature’ and they think, reading. Sure that is involved, but have you ever considered why a University would sanction a whole program dedicated to reading? That’s because it’s deeper than simply lifting the words off a page and committing them to memory. It involves critical analysis, and it demands self-development in the process. And isn’t that the kind of personality companies seek in their prospective employees?

I came across a booth at which a representative from my old job was poised. She said she remembered me, but she didn’t know what I was studying. When I told her, she admitted that she couldn’t understand how or why I got the job. This was a bank. She was there to promote, above all else, accounting. At least, that was her specialty, so she couldn’t perceive the scope of whatever I might have been doing while I was there. I told her the reason I was given when I met with the person who supervised me, as to why they needed a Literature student in the first place. Interestingly, they needed me (and my classmate) largely because – you guessed it – we read. As I came to realise on the job, a lot of the mistakes we encountered in their records were due to lack of reading thoroughly. Sometimes persons get so accustomed to the task they’d been appointed that they become complacent, sacrificing accuracy. This indirectly contributed to the company’s expenses, but we were able to help reverse that.

People also fail to realize that a Literature degree doesn’t confine itself to reading. There is journalism, communications, law, teaching, administration, human relations, and a whole host of random, seemingly non-related fields into which a Lit student can fit herself. But in 2016, maybe it takes the initiative of the student to step out and remind employers why the Lit Major is one of the best candidates for their companies.

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