| Giovanna Pasquariello
As I am entering my third year of PhD, that smoky prospect of the future is getting closer and closer. But not clearer. To caress the idea that I am actually doing something to prepare for the job market, and not only worrying about the uncertainty proclaimed everywhere, I am attending quite a few career events, for quite a few – and different – career perspectives. Universities organise workshops too – the objective of which is to help us see the brightness of the future in front of us. Because – even in case we decided to move forward from the dream of an academic job, and get into the exciting industry or anywhere else – our PhD has given us *plenty of* transferable skills.
Here we are. How many times have we heard it (and I am addressing the arts and humanities buddies in particular)? Transferable skills. Too many times. To be honest, I really appreciate the effort and time put by the people involved in the organisation of these career events, as they truly helped me *see* those transferable skills I have. And that will probably help me get a job in the future. It is true, we will most probably need to get back to those skills, to tailor them for the market – and, in all honesty, it is also very exciting to know that we can do more and different things with what we have learned. Who does not like a good dose of flexibility?
Being able to make use of all the talents and skills improved throughout the years is great, and desirable. The prospect of being an academic devoted only to books and their research topic does not attract everyone, even though the smell of old paper and wooden shelves probably does. Furthermore, the old-fashioned idea that this is the only way to be one – an academic – is what has made PhDs and academia in general (in the Humanities particularly) somewhat elitist. And from being or being perceived as elitist to being unsellable to the job market, is a short step. Hence, the transferable skills.
Thus if, one side, those transferable skills will save our skin, on the other I cannot help but seeing them as a symptom of a malfunctioning academia. Or job market. Or both. Let’s get it straight: what if we were taught in our university programmes (yes, even the Classics, Archaeology, English etc. ones!) to make use of our talents in different ways and to be prepared for employment? What if we did not have to flip our skills like pancakes in order to be even just considered by employers? What if our skills were not transferable, but just *skills*? Because being lenient to the need of *transferring* years and years of sacrifices and hard work in order to pay the day, is being lenient to disrespecting and devaluating them.
The habit to take this problem as it is, because “it’s sad, but this is how it works”, is hateful. It is how it works, and it does not work well. It must change. How to do it? First of all, by tackling the issue, and not condescending to it. This kind of indulgence is the “boys will be boys” of unemployment. Secondly, by taking action at the very beginnings. In the schools, in the universities. I dream of an education system that truly prepares the students for the future, that teaches them to use their skills and does not invite them to *transfer* them. Thirdly, I dream of a synergy between the (higher) education institutions and industry, and not only when it comes to Engineering, Biotechnologies or Architecture. I dream of a communication system between educators and employers, in which the student is not left to his lonely hunt, as proud as tired and burdened by their graduation hat, but valorised as a fuel of those machines that are both academia and industry.
And if I wanted to change career path, and pursue something a bit different from what I have studied for? Only then, I will be truly happy to talk about transferable skills.
Giovanna Pasquariello is Chair of “Pubs and Publications: the PhD experience”. She is doing a PhD at the University of Edinburgh, studying something old, very old: the vocabulary of ancient Greek inscriptions on the Celts. Apart from this, she swears she is a fun person.