Education only begins at university

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A recent Globe and Mail article entitled, “Why are we training our arts grads to be baristas?” brings to light an important question many students must face sooner or later: how am I going to find the kind of job I want with this degree?

As the article says, it can be hard for employers to see how a certain fine arts or humanities degree can fit into a specific career. Searching through online classifieds as a fresh grad will quickly reveal just how tough things can be. But there are ways to enhance your existing skills, making yourself better suited for a variety of careers.

One important skill, especially as technology dominates our lives, is building upon our computer programming abilities. For instance, web development skills are in demand, including knowledge of WordPress, a blogging tool and content management system. But digging a little deeper into languages like HTML, CSS and PHP/MySQL — the guts behind programs like WordPress — can take that skill set a lot further.

A solid understanding of graphic design can help a lot too. Knowing how to lay out a professional-looking resumé, report or website can only improve your chances of employment. Adobe Creative Suite, a collection of digital media creation software, is good to learn, but if you’re short on cash, check out the open-source alternatives including GIMP, InkScape and Scribus.

Another helpful tool in getting ahead in the job market is learning something like public speaking.  Public-speaking organizations like Toastmasters have plenty of clubs to choose from (including more than 30 in Victoria); most are always accepting new members. While public speaking can be scary at first, if you stick with it, it can make a big difference in your confidence level. This simply makes you a better communicator; beyond learning to talk to an audience, you’ll do better in job interviews while improving your leadership and people skills.

Try journalism to beef up your writing skills. Even if it’s not what you want to do with your career, journalism is a great skill set to have: writing, editing, storytelling, researching and interviewing. It teaches you to be aggressive, diplomatic and confident, and to meet deadlines.

You’ll also want to develop a strong business sense. Office administration tools like Excel and basic accounting skills are certainly worth learning. But another side to this is to try thinking like an entrepreneur: what can I create and bring to the world that I feel is needed? What do I need to know, and what do I need to do in order to make that idea succeed? If there’s any way you can demonstrate this kind of initiative, you’ve found a great way to impress a potential employer even if your own venture doesn’t pan out. Consider your passions and abilities — what can you do with them?

Try new things and explore opportunities while they present themselves. Push yourself. Check out a local bookstore, or look online for plenty of valuable (and often free) educational tools, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) OpenCourseWare and Google’s Code University. Just remember: a university degree is an amazing thing. It teaches you critical thinking skills and greatly expands your knowledge base. No matter what you end up doing, that knowledge is invaluable. But it’s what you can imagine doing beyond that piece of paper that can make a difference in your life.

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