Arts and humanities can bring your best skills out

An encouraging word to those of you planning to or thinking about studying arts when you leave school – the world is still going to need you when you finish.

For what seems forever it has all been about STEM. The world is changing, we’ve all been told, and the only people who will prosper in the future are those who can understand complex equations, solve mathematical problems or cut code. STEM is where your future lies, so get right amongst it now.

The push to corral school leavers into STEM study has been happening for a quite some time, and gathers more momentum every year. Study in fields outside STEM subjects seems to have been actively discouraged. You would be hard pressed to find stories and articles praising study in languages, social sciences, history and the rest of the many fields banded under the banner of arts and humanities.

If you have managed to resist the myriad forces driving you to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics, good for you. The future will still have a job for you.

A recent report in the Wall Street Journal indicates that employment rates for US graduates with liberal arts and humanities degrees are on the rise, as are their starting salary levels. Taking data from almost a quarter of a million bachelor degree holders in 2015, the US National Association of Colleges and Employers’ annual survey of where grads start work found both job prospects and starting pay are trending upwards for graduates with strong communication skills and who are comfortable in increasingly multicultural work environments.

Similar trends are evident in New Zealand. Universities New Zealand reported this year that all but the most obscure non-STEM degrees will produce a positive return on what your study will cost you.

What these indicators are actually showing is that the wider world of employment actually values graduates with what are referred to as  - buzzword alert -“soft skills”.

Technical skills refer to a person’s knowledge of their particular subject/job and how workers apply these to be productive. You get tons of theory on required technical skills when studying, although many employers would still like graduates to be better trained in actual work.

Soft skills should possibly be called people skills as they refer to your ability to communicate, get on with others, be committed to your job, solve problems and understand what’s happening around you. They say that technical skills might get you the job, but your soft skills will keep it for you, or keep you moving ahead in it.

Read about the top 10 soft skills employers are looking for

Tertiary institutions are getting more onto these skills in response to the shift of students away from arts, social sciences and humanities study. While some universities here have had to can courses and cut staff in the humanities area, others have tried to meet the challenge head on. Massey University has reworked itsBachelor of Arts (BA) degrees from this year in an attempt to better prepare graduates for the changing world of work ahead.

“Whether you have a BA majoring in linguistics, philosophy, classical studies, or history, psychology, sociology, or politics – to name just a few – you’ll be versed in critical, analytical methods and with a highly-developed sense of empathy, creativity, curiosity and ethics,” says Massey politics lecturer Professor Richard Shaw. “These may be called ‘soft skills’ but they are essentially lifelong skills applicable to many jobs and roles in life, especially in leadership.”

So don’t be afraid to embrace your inner soft skill set. Listen, show respect, learn, analyse, be kind, be creative, help out, show up. These are the skills that smart employers today want and which are hugely important and welcome in any workplace. 

If the humanities are your juice or passion, stay with them and don’t be diverted from what you love without really good reasons. There will always be a role for smart grads with strong people skills, the ability to think clearly and the ability to communicate, and one great way to grow these skills is through studying arts and humanities.

How Soft Skills Help Boost Your Career