Manifesto for hiring geographers

I have to start by clarifying that the article you are about to read will not tackle any « green » subjects. I took the liberty of opening this debate here because Greenly’s writing committee is fully made out of geographers: specialists in the most complex and beautiful science, but whose capacities are not always well known.

When I was studying at the University, I have been told that “Geographer” was not listed in the occupations and trades nomenclature. I am not sure whether it is true, I see now that this job exists. However, this piece of information turned out to be extremely coherent with the labor market realities and I am afraid that, even though things seem to have improved slightly – it still is. Like in many other situations, graduates find themselves working in fields completely unrelated to their studies, which diminishes the use and value of their capacities and their degree both in the eyes of the students and those of the employers. This is uncalled for and unfair, as I will try to show in the following text.

This situation and the unfortunate image of geography studies have several causes. Firstly, the large number of students and thus the physical impossibility of them being absorbed in the labor market, in their field of study. This is also related to the easiness with which students are admitted to these faculties, which unfortunately also serve as an outlet for the undecided masses. I will not go into a monologue on the fact that not everyone needs to have a University degree (in the Western countries, for example, it is not at all the case), that the abolition of professional high schools was a bad idea, that universities should have other criteria other than the number of fees collected (read “quality, not quantity”), that they only harm themselves by accepting students who will not have a positive impact on their image, etc., etc. This is another discussion that should be held at a political level rather than on a blog. But I hope I made you understand the context.

Secondly, jobs remain extremely limited in this field. Geographers can work, using the concrete skills they acquire in college, in relatively limited positions (from a typological point of view). And if we are talking about jobs, it should also be stressed that, in Romania, there is practically no bridge of communication between the labor market and universities. Even more so for non-technical faculties. Except for certain types of studies, well-thought-out educational programs or the work done by those passionate and involved teachers, the practical side of university studies is either limited or inadequate to the needs of the labor market. Universities do not know what (and how much) is needed by the institutions and businesses that would later hire young graduates, while these do not know what’s going on inside universities. And this lack of communication leaves behind victims: the young graduates, the universities’ image (the importance of which should be discussed separately and seriously), the general level of training and adaptability of graduates.

Finally, Geography students and graduates are not kept safe from stereotypes: despite the widespread idea, a geographer’s job is not to know by heart lengths of rivers, mountain heights or capital city names. That’s the job of an atlas. Or, more recently, Google.

Anyone who had to look for a job or to convince an employer to give them one knows that the strengths of this process, those that lead to a successful contract (or just a contract) are mostly related to experience: what can you do. However, such a complex and complete science as Geography is perhaps difficult to correlate with specific useful skills outside of that field. Or … Is it?

This article wishes to be a manifesto for “not”.

I was given my current position because I have a degree in Geography. No, my job is not related to Geography. There is no connection between the subjects studied during my University years and what I am doing today. But my employer had the good reflex of “reading between the lines” and of understanding that a geographer means more than concrete skills – those we learn in college: knowing how to make a map, analyzing a form of relief, understanding a demographic evolution. And he told me that I got the job because he thinks that a geographer has a certain ability to analyze and to “map” – situations, problems, contexts.

Of course, he was talking about transversal competences: a very fashionable concept at the EU level, which even built a nomenclature on this subject, containing elements that may or may not be associated with certain professional experiences. These are related to how we think, how we apply knowledge, language, social interaction, attitudes and values.

This way of seeing things made me think. Why should future or young geographers become cynical about their capabilities or the value of their studies? Why do employers indulge in misinformation and stereotypes without trying to look beyond their concrete skills – or preconceived ideas? Why are we not highlighting the transversal elements obtained by a student during his college years, especially since they are more valuable on the labor market than others, considered more “concrete”?

So, I allowed myself to take a first incomplete and modest step towards clarifying this problem and highlighting the capabilities of a geographer: firstly because we do not know how to sell ourselves, from a professional point of view, and therefore we inevitably have to lose, but also for – if you want – our personal pride, which, after a certain number of failed professional trials, can be hurt.

So what does a geographer know how to do, beyond their concrete skills?

• Has a systemic thinking;
• Can analyze on several scales, from several points of view and at different levels;
• Can schematize and map;
• Has a deep vision (he is not superficial);
• Has a critical look;
• Observes;
• Analyzes;
• Has patience;
• Adapts quickly;
• Knows to properly analyze the temporal context of a situation / project;
• Can synthesize and present;
• Knows how to report correct information;
• Knows to analyze a context and give a state of affairs;
• Is creative and attentive: thinks outside the box;
• Can see the overall picture;
• Can easily link the elements (create and see relationships);
• Has an open mind;
• Is curious;
• Is able to analyze cause-effect relationships.

These capacities, which surely represent only a fraction of the whole, can prove to be extremely valuable at work, regardless of the job’s nature. They are the kind of “plus” a good manager is looking for in his or her employees because, in the long run, they bring an essential added value to their  work and to the team they are a part of. They are, therefore, key elements that should be exploited, expressed and introduced into the minds of those who work with geographers. And it is the role of Universitites and of graduates to bring these transversal skills into discussion and thus to change the erroneous image associated with their domain, which is clearly unmerited.

Original article in Romanian.

Image.

Despre autor
Doctor in Geografie si amenajare teritoriala al Universitatii din Lille, pasionata de natura si de calatorii.
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