John R. Parker, Jr., on thinking across lines

photo of professor in classroom

When John Parker graduated with a BA in History from UGA in 1973, the uses of a history degree after college were as indeterminate as they are now. But today, as a Senior Vice President (General Counsel and Strategic Initiatives) for Coca-Cola, Parker points out that this indeterminacy is precisely what makes history and other humanities degrees an asset, rather than a hazard. Not only do college graduates move through multiple jobs in the course of their lives. More than ever before, employers are looking to hire people who are intellectually adaptive — people who think critically, who use creative problem-solving to address complex issues, and who are comfortable going outside their areas of expertise to communicate and interact across multiple disciplines. Call them “twenty-first-century-workplace competencies,” call them “T skills,” but whatever HR-speak you prefer, Parker is still playing on these strengths in his own work — for example in a recent merger he led involving 30,000 employees, several countries, and 20% of Coke’s future production — and he advises current majors to work seriously to cultivate them, too. “Don’t obsess about the job. Obsess about those twenty-first-century-workplace competencies. This is your challenge.”

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