To get an idea for what hiring managers think of Gen Y workers, take a look at the findings of a survey conducted by SmartCompany, a leading Australian small business website: 48% of small- and medium-sized business owners were disappointed with Gen Y's communications skills. A CareerBuilder survey of employers found that 55% felt that Gen Y workers were less skilled at dealing with authority than older workers, and 87% said Gen-Y workers were more entitled. I would also argue that those two points tie in with the issue of communications skills.
Given that -- and the decided lack of complaints from employers that Gen-Y workers don't possess of enough knowledge about the specifics of the field in which they're working -- here are a few alternative majors to consider. While they all appear on most lists of low-paying degrees, they actually have a lot to offer in terms of building young workers who can communicate and climb the ranks within the workforce.
Social work is all about communication -- and the study of the dynamics of human relationships and how to improve people's lives in the context of themselves and their communities. I would argue that this background in understanding relationships is a big part of what helped Suze Orman reach millions of people in ways that more conventional finance-major-turned-financial-planner types couldn't.
- Social Work Major Who Struck it Rich: Suze Orman, financial advisor, No. 1 New York Times bestselling author and host of The Suze Orman Show on CNBC.
One friend of mine who decided to major in drama told me his parents reacted to the news as though he had announced that he was terminally ill. And, yes: If your kid doesn't make it big in Hollywood and ends up traveling around performing at summer theater festivals, he's unlikely to make a lot of money. But, seriously: Is there any better way to develop the communication skills employers crave than through performance?
One drama major who doesn't regret his decision is Marc Acito, the author of How I Paid For College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater.
"At the risk of making drama school sound like the Miss America pageant, I learned poise and self-confidence, which served me well when I worked as a salesman," he says. "And I eventually got two books and a movie deal out of it the experience, so it worked out okay in the end."
- Drama Major Who Struck it Rich: Oprah Winfrey, billionaire, biggest media mogul ever.
As Al Lee of Payscale told The Wall Street Journal, "If you're motivated by income, then there are certainly careers in psychology that pay as well as careers out of engineering."
Psychology is, according to the folks at University of Wisconsin -- Eau Claire, a way to develop skills in writing, research, performing experiments and data analysis. And when it comes to climbing your way to the top in any field, knowing how to mess with people's minds can't hurt.
- Psychology Major Who Struck it Rich: Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy -- and an expert on psychology.
Studying history requires attention to detail, critical reading, and writing -- mega-rich hedge-fund manager David Einhorn earned his degree in government, and he has made an enormous amount of money, one might argue, by poring over SEC filings and making connections that finance majors were missing. Remember, he saw trouble at Lehman Brothers long before almost everyone else.
The skills history majors develop have applicability in many, many areas. If you use them to become a curator at a local historical society, you probably won't get rich. But ...
- History Major Who Struck it Rich: Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), and GOP candidate in California's U.S. Senate race.
Many students skip over this major in favor of what seem like more career-oriented choices such as journalism or communications.
But renowned journalists and media personalities including Bob Woodward, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and my personal favorite, Joy Behar, all majored in English. The ability to read and write well may carry over into the future far better than the "craft-oriented" training that journalism programs provide -- much of which will likely be obsolete in a few years.
- English Major Who Struck it Rich: Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney (DIS)
Finally, prospective college students and their parents should keep in mind that an ever-increasing percentage of young people are planning on attending grad school -- meaning that the career-relevance of your undergraduate major is especially irrelevant. Degrees in fields like classics get people into top business and law schools all the time.
Florida Atlantic University reports that "Some years ago, law school deans were surveyed to determine what majors they recommended to effectively prepare students for law school. The four majors most frequently recommended were, in alphabetical order, English, history, philosophy, and political science." Another benefit to majoring in something you love? You'll graduate with a higher GPA.
None of this is to say that you should major in history or theater if those aren't the things that interest you. If you want to be an engineer or an accountant, the hard sciences, business or mathematics make great majors. But if your passion lies in the classics, go for it. Pursuing your own interests is reward enough in itself, and it offers as good of a shot at making a lot of money as following the path of least resistance and picking a major based on "practicality."
Zac Bissonnette's book, Debt-Free U: How I Paid For An Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, Or Mooching Off My Parents, is available for pre-order and will be in stores Aug. 31.