How Sociology Majors Prepare for the Labor Force
Every year, students ask me what kinds of jobs they might get with a degree in sociology. In today’s job market, a major is not typically direct vocational training, preparing you for a specific field, but instead a major allows students to develop skill sets that translate into the work force. Sociology provides students with the chance to develop many of these important skills.
In 2015, the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU) published the results of a survey on how well prepared college graduates are for the labor market. The survey asked recent graduates how they rated themselves on a variety of skills, and also asked employers how they recent graduates on these same skills. Students consistently rated themselves higher than employers on each skill.
- Critical and analytical thinking
- Locating, organizing, and evaluating information
- Working with numbers and statistics
- Analyzing and solving complex problems
- Applying knowledge and skills to the real world
- Oral communication
- Written communication
- Working with others in teams
- Working with people from different backgrounds
- Awareness of diverse cultures within the U.S.
- Awareness of diverse cultures outside of the U.S.
- Being proficient in another language
- Ethical judgment and decision making
- Being innovative and creative
- Staying current on technologies
- Staying current on global developments
- Staying current on developments in science
The first five involve critical thinking and problems solving. Sociology encourages us to think critically about the world around us, something that I find some new students have trouble doing. “Why are we reading so much into things?” and “That’s just the way it is” are common expressions of resistance to critical thinking.
But employers value the ability to be able to analyze a situation and even rethink “the way it is” to solve problems and make improvements. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to focus on so many problems within sociology, as Peter Kaufman’s recent post describes. But understanding the roots of problems, which sociology requires us to do, also helps us come up with solutions to complex problems.
The second and third skills are central to any social science discipline: understanding how to evaluate and analyze data, the very core of where knowledge comes from. Graduates should be able to think critically about a source of data and determine its strengths and limitations, and to be able to interpret its meaning. And number three—the statistics course that so many students dread—is actually one of the most valuable parts of the sociology major for career development. Being able to interpret numerical data is a plus, and being proficient in tabulating statistics is even better.
Good employees communicate effectively with those around them—skills 6 and 7—in writing as well as other types of formal and informal communication. Remember that presentation you gave in front of the class that made you so nervous, and all those papers you wrote? You were probably focusing on getting the best grade possible, but those are also valuable job skills.
The next set of skills involves working with others. That group project that you completed helped you develop these skills, even working with difficult people who don’t do what they say they will do or whose commitment is different from yours will help you in a future job. Likewise, understanding people’s diverse backgrounds and experiences, which is a central part of learning about issues like race, class, gender, and so forth, can help you interact with all kinds of people.
Critical thinking skills are the basis for being able to see things in a different way, or to think creatively. These skills, if continually nurtured, enhance our curiosity and encourage us to keep learning, the last group of skills.
As you can see from the graph of the results below, employers rank the ability to work with people from different backgrounds, global awareness, and foreign language proficiency among graduates’ biggest weaknesses. But there is room for improvement with all of the skills cited in the survey.
Source: Inside Higher Ed
Sociology majors: how else do you think that you have developed these skills in your coursework? How do you think you might develop more?
Sociology instructors: how can we do better on these measures?