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leadership lab

Founder and director of Launched Careers, Toronto.

You graduated, or are about to graduate, with a liberal arts degree and majored in English literature, political science, history or the like. You did not have a talent for or interest in mathematics or science, did not take courses in those areas in high school, and therefore could not take them in university. And it is universally acknowledged that the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will offer the best career opportunities in the coming decades.

According to the latest Statistics Canada data, there are at least six female postsecondary graduates in Canada for every four male graduates in the fields of education, visual/performing arts, communication technologies, humanities, social and behavioural sciences, law, health and related fields. On the flip side, engineering, architecture, mathematics and computer sciences skew heavily male.

So, without the STEM background, what do you do now?

Firstly, you need to determine your strengths, aptitudes and interests. Second, identify the sectors or industries that offer the best opportunities for personal and professional growth that resonate with you. It is a safe assumption that these opportunities will reside in growing industries where the demand for talent is robust and growth will provide opportunities for career development. Third, identify roles or functions that fit with your strengths and interests. Finally, develop and execute a strategy that will launch your career in that sector and function.

There are a number of assessment instruments that can be helpful to assist you in better understanding yourself, including Meyers-Briggs, the Strong Interest Inventory and Strengths Finder.

Write 250 words on the following:

  • Life View: what is important to me in my life;
  • Work View: what is important to me in my work;
  • Flow Experience: times when you were "in the zone” – what you were doing and who you were doing it with.

Talk to people in different roles and industries – find out what they do and what they like about what they do.

In its 2018 study The Future of Jobs, the World Economic Foundation (WEF) identified the top ten skill demands in 2022 as (in order): analytical thinking and innovation; active learning and learning strategies; creativity, originality, and initiative; technology design and programming; critical thinking and analysis; complex problem solving; leadership and social influence; emotional intelligence; reasoning, problem-solving and ideation; and systems analysis and evaluation. Note that only two of those skills are directly related to STEM, and they are fairly far down the list.

There are innumerable articles, blogs and books about what will be the growth sectors in the 2020s, and the consensus of opinion indicates that those sectors will be artificial intelligence, robotics, financial services (specifically e-commerce and blockchain), health care, professional services and social media.

All of these sectors will require technical skills in some areas. However, all will also have functions that do not require those skills. Today’s functions will exist in the above sectors, including finance, human resources, sales, marketing and operations. WEF research identified the following as emerging non-STEM job roles that leverage distinctively human skills including:

  • Customer service workers: Every organization has customers in the broadest definition of the word and will need people who can satisfy their needs.
  • Sales and marketing professionals: Every company that sells goods or services requires sales and business development teams. The ability to market and/or sell technology-based products does not require the ability to design, develop or make those products. An understanding of the application, features and benefits is required along with the ability to change prospects into customers. Sales is all about relationship management, comfort with risk, and the ability to connect with people, understand their needs and solve their problems.
  • Training and development, people and culture, and organizational-development specialists: Organizations will be faced with the need to hire the right people and develop their skills. Companies will need to successfully adapt to new technologies and markets, which will require new skills. Retaining top talent will necessitate an appropriate culture.
  • Innovation managers: Technological and market developments will require innovation and people to lead and manage those processes.

When you have identified your target sector(s) and role(s), you will need to develop and execute a strategy to capture opportunities. That strategy will require a compelling resume and digital presence (LinkedIn), an effective networking campaign (as 80 per cent of filled jobs never appear in the public domain) and interviewing skills.

This article is one of a series published during the week of International Women’s Day.

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