Periodically, we learn that employers need a particular set of skills and universities should re-tool accordingly. These in-demand fields command higher wages, and so students are encouraged to flock to them. Indeed, politicians often claim that producing more graduates with said skills will help with unemployment and increase wages overall.
Let’s look at the economics underlying these claims. Under what circumstances does more widespread availability of a product lead to higher prices for that product? I’m pretty sure that the laws of supply and demand would indicate just the opposite result — significantly increasing the supply of a product leads to commodification, creating a buyer’s market where sellers have to compete on price.
Furthermore, since when have employers clamored to pay more people higher wages? If there’s a single characteristic trait of contemporary capitalism, surely it is the constant demand for ever-cheaper labor.
Hence, I conclude that when a particular field or skillset is trumpeted as the Next Big Thing demanded by employers, the goal is to get students to flood that field or skillset in order to commodify it. And this isn’t just a hypothetical — isn’t it exactly what has happened with computer science majors within the last ten years or so?
For that reason, I would advise students to actually avoid such “hot” majors, unless they have a good reason to believe that they will be significantly ahead of the curve. By the time the in-demand field is being propagandized in the mainstream media, it’s almost certainly too late for that.
Given the pressures leading inevitably to the commodification of particular job skills, I believe that a liberal arts-style education that increases students’ adaptability and ability to pick up new skills is a much better — indeed, safer — investment than any directly job-oriented program of study. But what do I know? I’m just an idiot who cares about my students’ actual well-being, not a job creator who wants to exploit them on as cheap and flexible terms as possible.