A conference at the University of Wisconsin Thursday focused on how tricky navigating the changing global workforce of the 21st century can be for recent college graduates.

According to UW System President Kevin Reilly, graduates of today’s world are expected to hold more than seven jobs throughout their lifetimes and handle a variety of responsibilities. As a result, graduates will be expected to draw from many talents, skills and knowledge to help contribute and adapt to the workforce.

At the conference, “Liberal Education: A Unifying Mission for the 21st Century University,” held Nov. 20 and 21, members of the UW System met to discuss the importance of a liberal arts education on college campuses and the initiatives designed to improve awareness of liberal arts throughout the state.

“A liberal arts education is really the key to our economic development,” said UW spokesperson David Giroux. “The skills you acquire through a liberal arts education are the kinds of capacities that help students succeed throughout their lifetime.”

A liberal arts education at a UW institution includes a general curriculum that provides broad exposure to multiple disciplines, as well as more in-depth study in at least one field or area of concentration. This field of study is designed to embrace the diversity of ideas and experiences that characterize the intellectual world.

“With a liberal arts education, students will have furnished their mind to navigate the world around them,” said Reilly. “They will have the chairs needed to invite many ideas to the problem-solving table.”

In 2005, the Association of American Colleges and Universities named the UW System as its pilot partner in moving the Liberal Education and America’s Promise agenda forward to help make the case to members of the university and the public regarding the importance of a quality liberal arts education for all citizens.

Since then, the system has been taking steps to make faculty, staff and students at UW institutions more aware of its goals.

“We are working to develop a comprehensive and core approach to liberal arts education,” said UW System Vice President for Academic Affairs Rebecca Martin. “We are making it clear that everyone has a role to play.”

To help improve the quality of the liberal arts education for students, the UW System has created initiatives including an annual UW System Liberal Arts Essay Competition, the Syllabus Project, in which faculty refer to liberal education outcomes in their syllabi, and online and face-to-face conversations between faculty and students across departments on the value of a liberal education.

According to Reilly, the UW System will create a method for learning the goals of the liberal arts education and reiterating what the system’s expectations are for UW graduates’ skills and knowledge.

“A liberal arts education emphasizes the whole student, allowing students to be armed with the knowledge to greet each day with confidence,” Reilly said.