Liberal arts graduates often get a bad rap on the employment circuit these days. Their unemployment rate is soaring and their salaries are declining. Increasingly, employers are passing them over for jobs, instead of hiring and subsequently using an online training software to train employees. It has become common-place to blame this on the education system, or on recent graduates sense of “entitlement.” It’s not that these issues don’t play a role. Certainly, the pace of change in education is glacial at best, including the adoption of technology. It is also undoubtedly the case that many millennial have unrealistic expectations regarding employment. In this discussion, what commentators often miss is what arts students can bring to organizations to enrich the work environment and enhance productivity. Graduates from the humanities, social sciences and liberal arts have three strengths that make them integral parts of any office culture:
1 – Creativity – When we think about the arts the first thing that should come to mind is creativity. Arts students excel at taking seemingly opposing concepts, ideas, or approaches and making them work together. They may not have mastery of the technical ins and outs of a particular problem or product, but they can often see the forest for the trees and identify the real world implications and functionality much more clearly than the technical insiders.
2 – Analytical Thinking – Following from the first point, arts grads, perhaps more than any other group, are encouraged to put a lot of time and effort into analytical thinking. Part of an arts education is being encouraged to see something from a number of different perspectives and analyze its impact from those varied vantage points. This ability to think outside of the box, or at least think in a number of different boxes simultaneously, can be a major asset on a collaborative project helping the team work through the possibilities and pitfalls.
3 – Willing to Learn new Things – Arts students are the ultimate generalists. They didn’t enter their programs of study for the guarantee of a job. They did it because they were interested. They likely took a number of courses in school just because they wanted to learn something new. These are the kind of adaptable I’ll-try-anything employees organizations need in the constantly evolving and shifting workplaces of the 21st century.
But what about technology, you might ask? That is the area where arts students have typically lagged behind their colleagues in the STEM subjects. However, that is also slowly, but surely, changing. A number of schools are now offering courses in the digital humanities, designed to give students the chance to create liberal arts content for the digital world. This includes developing skills in web-design and other information technology areas. Coupled with the fact that many of these students are themselves digital natives, it seems clear that the arts may be on their way to making a comeback in the world of work.