With her head buried in a book, Decatur resident Rebecca Royal credits her liberal arts education as to why she can write and understand information more effectively than most workers her age.
Royal, who excelled in grammar and literature courses growing up, decided to obtain an associate's degree in English at Calhoun Community College after she graduated from Hartselle High School with honors in 2007.
Royal, who works in retail and has taken a brief hiatus from college, hopes her writing and reading comprehension skills will help her land her dream job in the future.
"I chose English because I was good at it and I enjoyed it," Royal, 24, said. "I do think it will help me find work later on because people who can write with an understanding of grammar and can write in a way their audience understands are rare."
Last year, college graduates who were most likely to receive job offers majored in accounting, engineering, computer science, economics and business administration, according to a 2012 study of nearly 48,000 students by the National Association of Colleges and Employees.
The local work forecast also doesn't bode well for liberal arts majors.
Although the U.S. unemployment rate remained stagnant in December at 7.8 percent, data show sharp employment increases in health care, construction and manufacturing in the Decatur-Morgan County area.
Taylor Simmons, director of workforce development and education for the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, said many in-demand careers no longer require a four-year degree, but instead allow prospective employees to get on-the-job training or a two-year degree or certificate.
Decatur Career Services manager Abbott Wood said workers who have a four-year liberal arts degree tend to struggle more to find jobs locally than those who have acquired skills in a growing field.
"We don't see too many liberal arts job listings here," Wood said. "We get mostly manufacturing services, trade and construction. If we see any professional listings, they're mostly for engineers, IT or computer-related positions. We also get some job orders for financial areas of business, such as accounting."
Ron Fritze, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Athens State University, said liberal arts remain the best career preparation since the economic downturn in 2008.
"What is education? What do employers look for when they want to hire an educated person?" he said. "Good writing, good reading comprehension, clear thinking, ability to express themselves and ability to learn on their own.
"If you don't know the answer, you have the ability to find the answer, which goes well beyond using a simple Google search," he said.
Fritze said liberal arts majors who graduate from Athens State can return to the university during their job search to get advice on career preparation, resume building, interviewing and more.
"Right now, I'm chairing a search committee for a new dean of education, and a good number of our applicants have beautiful resumes, while there are others that are incomprehensible," he said. "It's always important to go to professionals to get mentoring advice, and when beginning an interview, to show up dressed professionally, on time, with a good night's sleep and ready to answer questions.
"You always need to remember you're trying to sell yourself," he said.
Wood said it's important for local residents, regardless of educational background, to attend job fairs, post their resumes to online career sites and tailor their cover letters to the job. He said federal, state and local programs are available to help job seekers with a criminal history re-enter the workforce.
"Keep networking," he said. "If you've got a networking system in place, if you've been able to keep ties, that still tends to be the best route to finding a job."
While job websites are helpful, Wood said, networking and word-of-mouth continue to be the best tools in finding work in a down economy.
The Job and Career Networking Club of Decatur meets on the first Wednesday of each month at 12:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church to give job seekers the chance to learn about new career opportunities.
Although fewer liberal arts jobs are listed at Decatur's career center, Fritze said arts and science disciplines are a "wonderful laboratory for learning those traits of an educated person."
"Work is a social environment as well, so being able to hold an intelligent conversation with one's supervisor is important," he said. "Being the one to write the report will get you ahead as well as will being the one with the best research skills."
Lucy Berry can be reached at 256-340-2442 or email@example.com.
Ron Fritze, dean of the College of Arts and Science at Athens State University, recommends parents read “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids and What We Can Do About It” by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus.
“It will make them wiser consumers of where they should sent their child to college and what they ought to study,” Fritze said.
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