T-shaped Employees: How General Education Can Benefit Your Career

Posted: December 18, 2023 | Author: Madelyn Bushman | Read Time: 4 minutes

Two professionally dressed people shaking hands.

Are you wondering what the purpose of general education is? Or how the courses and material will apply to your future career? Well, general education courses are important for all students to enroll in and learn from as they teach students to be knowledgeable in a broad variety of disciplines.

But why is it important to have that breadth of knowledge? Best-selling author Jeff Selingo in his book There is Life After College suggests that employees are more valuable when they are “T-shaped” in their knowledge and skills. 

What are T-shaped Employees? 

A large, red letter T with the words “breadth” indicated along the horizontal line, and “depth” along the vertical line.

Selingo uses the term “T-shaped” to describe the breadth and depth of knowledge in a highly desirable, well-rounded employee.

Picture a capital letter T. The vertical bar of the T represents the depth of your skills and expertise in a single field. This means you have a deep understanding of one subject matter and one industry matter.

Now, the horizontal bar represents your breadth of knowledge that enables you to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas and apply your knowledge to areas beyond your primary field. This means you can work across a variety of complex subject areas with ease and confidence.

T-shaped employees have the agility to pick and choose from a set of knowledge and skills as they are needed all while still having balance. 

Why Employers Value T-shapes 

In today's world, employers are seeking prospective employees who possess both expertise in a specific field and a broad understanding across various academic disciplines, exemplifying T-shaped employees. 

In a survey conducted in 2020 by McKinsey & Company, 87% of leaders acknowledged skill gaps in their workforces. With this information, employers are recognizing that T-shaped employees not only enhance their company’s overall efficiency and assist their managers and leaders in team building but also demonstrate exceptional proficiency in their core responsibilities while efficiently handling other tasks. 

Employers are more interested in those who can essentially see the whole picture. In other words, employees who can wrap their heads around the entire issue or task and be part of a team. For example, a task such as answering a customer service call on insufficient funds requires more than skills and knowledge from the field of customer service. It requires math, communication, patience, finance, technology, problem-solving, and emotional intelligence. 

T-shaped employees can contribute to various projects, teams, or issues across the organization because they aren’t limited to just a single position due to their skills and experience. 

How General Education Courses Can Create T-shaped Employees 

General education equips students to become T-shaped employees with a versatile skill set, enabling them to approach a diverse range of tasks, cultivate discipline, and structure thoughts more deeply.

The general education curriculum at Southern Utah University is meticulously designed to support students in their educational journey and prepare them for challenges beyond. These courses are structured to encourage exploration, provide knowledge, and cultivate skills that can be beneficial throughout a student’s career and life. 

SUU's general education courses encourage students to think in new ways, connect meaningful ideas with skills, adapt to change and develop different perspectives on their lives. Including not just work but the world around them. 

General education courses expose students to topics, issues and skills that are relevant to their future profession. Though they may not recognize it at the time, as students graduate and embark on their chosen career paths, a foundation from a well-rounded education can increase their opportunities and success in the professional world. 

To be fair, there is a place for those who are “I-shaped” and we need them to push innovation and precision in their respective areas. 

You can see, however, that the addition of a breadth of knowledge (completing the T-shape) can increase the impact, effectiveness, and versatility of an employee throughout their career. 

General education courses might not be directly related to a student’s degree or field but will educate students on a variety of foundational subjects that establish core skills. Students can expand their knowledge past what they already know from secondary school due to the general education courses. 

At SUU, there’s a variety of options when it comes to students choosing their general education courses. This gives students additional options to pick courses that might be more beneficial or relevant to their interests. 

Important skills that SUU’s general education courses include are:   

  • Teamwork 
  • Mathematics
  • Communication 
  • Computers 
  • Problem-solving 
  • Entrepreneurship 
  • Emotional Intelligence 
  • Critical thinking 
  • Ethics 
  • Writing 
  • Leadership 

Students can create a resume with the desirable skills and knowledge that can provide insight for employers. Given that many recent graduates may possess limited field-specific experience, emphasizing a diverse range of skills and knowledge can distinguish them from other applicants. 

Achieving authentic success in today’s workplace demands the ability to collaborate and communicate effectively across diverse departments and skill sets, complemented by the ability to quickly embrace change. General education will prepare students to fit those demands and foster them as T-shaped employees.

Tags: CurStu SUU Online Career Center

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