Arts and humanities graduates in demand

Careers opportunities for arts and humanities graduates are improving with increasing evidence suggesting that these disciplines are in heavy demand by employers, writes Fergal Browne.

Recently, a managing director at Royal Bank of Scotland in Britain stated that he wanted to bring in more arts/humanities students into the company as having too many technical degree graduates means there’s “too many linear thinkers” within the bank.

He even went as far as to say that the worst effects of the economic crash could have been mitigated if the bank had more of what he described as “an input from people who have left-field, blue-sky creative thinking”, referencing arts/humanities students.

This follows recent evidence that businesses want diverse teams. “Companies more and more want multi-disciplinary teams, whether it be with engineers, arts and finance backgrounds because this creates synergy within a team”, says the UCD Director of Career Development and Skills, Dr David Foster.

This focus on arts/humanity students follows a growing belief that the skills they have are extremely valuable to employers. “Arts and humanities is perfect because these disciplines require students to structure large amounts of information which is distilled to make a compelling and persuasive argument presented effectively in writing or through oral presentation. Independent learning, managing information and research skills are valued by employers also”, says David.

Therefore, arts/humanities students tend to be strong in areas like creativity, communication and ability to work independently. “They [employers] are crying out for people like that”, he adds.

There’s a tendency for students to overlook the sheer depth of opportunities that a degree in arts/humanities can offer them. “There’s always a market there across a broad range of sectors; accountancy, banking, retail. There’s always a cohort of jobs”, says David. Tourism is also a popular sector for arts/humanities students, a sector which employs over 200,000 people in total.

“For example, look at accountants. Obviously you need to have strong numerical skills [to be an accountant], but it’s the ability to communicate to the client why something is important, why it matters, that’s the important thing,” he says. “This is where arts students are strong, but they tend to overlook these jobs.”

While a degree is a prerequisite, it is through internships, part-time work or Erasmus, where students can further develop and demonstrate these skills. Involvement in clubs and societies is also a big help in making graduates more employable through these skills.

This is all positive news for these disciplines which are often stereotyped as something students do when they have no idea what to do with their careers, although the UCD Director of Careers Development and Skills disputes this has ever been the case.

“There’s a range of reasons why a student studies arts. Some have a very clear focus, for example they are doing an arts degree to move into the NGO sector after college, but yes others aren’t sure what they want to do. We always tell students to do what they are really passionate about.”

UCD currently recruits around 1,500 students to its BA programme every year with interest remaining consistent over the last few years. The First Destination Survey of the class of 2013 indicated that 84% of UCD graduates of arts are either at postgrad level or in employment nine months after they graduated while a further 4.3% indicating they were not available for work which, according to the University’s Career Development Centre, is a “positive and encouraging” sign.

Recent research suggests the benefits to society of people studying arts/humanities degrees are more far-reaching than would be assumed.

A three decade long study by Oxford University tracking 11,000 arts graduates showed 80% ended up in one of the following disciplines after graduation; education, media, law, finance or management. The increased contribution from graduates from these disciplines to management and finance from 1960-89 resulted in an increase in nominal GDP in the United Kingdom, according to the study.

Perhaps another surprising benefit is that arts/humanities graduates have greater flexibility in how they can move between sectors after they finish college. Less than a third of graduates’ first job after university is related to the sector they will work in over their working life, the Oxford study highlighted.

Also, research from the New College of the Humanities found 60% of the UK leaders in business, politics and other fields have humanities, arts or social science degrees. Only 15% had more technical degrees in areas like science, technology, engineering and maths.


Employability: some short and sharp tips

At a recent careers event which focused on what ‘employability’ actually entails, gradireland gleaned the following key nuggets of information which may help you in the elusive quest to enhance your own ‘employability’, thereby giving you the edge in a competitive jobs market.

Keep this definition in mind: Qualifications + Experience + Skills x Contacts = Employability (Dr Paul Redmond, Director of Student Life, University of Manchester)

Most students are only at University for 1,000 days: You need to start learning, absorbing, connecting and growing from your first day and one of the things students need to know about from their first day is employability. This includes all the important extra-curricular activities that add into your all-round university experience.

By March of their final year, 50% of students have not made an application for a graduate job or for a postgraduate course. Much of this can be traced back to an anxiety about what’s the ‘right’ thing to do. Seeking careers guidance and careers information at an early stage in your undergraduate degree can be a massive advantage as it helps reduce this anxiety and give clarity around your best options.

Emerging trends in the workforce: Nowadays, companies are looking for inter-disciplinary teams “working at the intersections” ie where disciplines and skills interact. For example, a team might include data analysts, marketers, sales and project managers working together on a project launch or supply chain, computer programmers, product design and management consultants working on an app for a retailer.

Graduate recruiters are increasingly using internships for the early identification (and recruitment) of talent; and also students are using them in ‘road-testing’ sectors and/or employers.

Foreign languages are a major ‘trump card’ in the employability race especially in a multi-national, multi-cultural global economy where communication and cultural understanding is king.

The Employer’s view: According to a survey of 500 UK Directors, 64% said that when recruiting, graduates’ employability skills were more important to their firm than the specific occupational, technical or academic skills associated with a degree.

An example:

HSBC recruits 1500 graduates into 70 grad programmes globally each year, for which they receive 100,000 applications. 90% of these have a 2:1 or 2:2, thus meeting their minimum criteria for consideration. So it’s going to take something extra to stand out.

The advice is that a strong academic record is a prerequisite that gets you into the game but to keep playing, you need the employability edge; experiences gained inside and outside of study.

What do you need to show?

  • Communication skills (written, verbal, social).
  • Self-management (especially around learning either formal or informal).
  • Confidence Be a ‘digital native’ at home with all types of technology regardless of the role.

What are the traits that Irish graduates have that make us employable?

  • We are travellers, we are mobile, we are explorers and we are not afraid

  • We are inclusive, empathetic, good listeners and good communicators.

Embrace these traits and enhance your employability.


Want to be in demand by Ireland’s top graduate employers? Take the gradireland National Student Challenge

The National Student Challenge (NSC) is open again offering a great opportunity to students and a chance to kick start their career in the best possible way, writes Fergal Browne.

The annual event, run by gradireland alongside some of the biggest graduate recruiters in the country, tests the abilities of students throughout Ireland and finishes by finding Ireland’s brightest student.

The possibilities coming from winning the Challenge are massive. “I’ve had job offers come into my LinkedIn from Google, Accenture, a lot of companies and recruitment consultants just because I won the gradireland National Student Challenge”, says Ava Mahoney, 2014’s NSC winner.

Ava, who is going to complete a PhD in Taxation in University of Limerick, can’t speak highly enough of the challenge. She tutors 3rd year Taxation students and has told them all to go for the challenge. “It’s great practice. It’s great for getting your brain active”.

The Challenge takes on two forms. The first is a series of online exercises to test the competencies that make for a great business person. It consists of a range of tasks in four categories; verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning (make sure you’ve a pen and paper close by for this part), commercial competency and multitasking. The latter was added this year in response to employer’s desires for candidates to demonstrate this necessary attribute.

Ava advises that it’s best to do the test when your head is clear. “Make sure you don’t do it at the end of a busy day. Just be as relaxed as possible”.

The competition culminates when the 60 best performers in the online competition come together for a series of tasks as provided by some of Ireland’s leading recruiters. The students will be split into groups and must complete a series of tasks, which are chosen by Ireland’s top graduate employers.

It’s this opportunity to network with some of the country’s most prestigious employers that can be the biggest benefit. “It’s just unbelievable the networking opportunities that comes from it”, says Ava.

“One piece of advice I’d give to anyone who takes part in the event is to stay back after the day is finished and talk to the companies. It’s a great chance to impress them further and I heard of some candidates who got interviews just from the chat after the event was finished”, she adds.

The leaders are listed on gradireland’s website. At the moment Trinity College leads in terms of entrants in both the top-60 with nine, while Ireland’s oldest university also boasts a quarter of the top-20 and the coveted number one spot.

Despite its seeming strength this year TCD has never boasted a winner with two former winners coming from Northern Irish universities – University of Ulster and Queens University Belfast – while last year’s victor was Ava from University of Limerick.

The overall winner will receive €1,000 and recognition as Ireland’s brightest student, while each contest is sponsored by a company who will offer a prize to the best-performing student in their category.

With the cash prize an incentive, it’s still important that students don’t be overly-competitive. “Just relax and be yourself”, says Ava. “Employers will see straight away if you are putting on a persona to win”.

The online test is open to all students, undergraduate or postgraduate, and is available here if you think you are Ireland’s brightest student.  Make sure you have 40 minutes to spare and your head is clear. After all, you only get one chance.


Amazing experiences and more employable; the benefits of learning a foreign language

DIT Journalism graduate, Fergal Browne, writes on how learning a foreign language can be fulfilling and a vital attribute for your career.

The day I came back from Germany carried as much fear as it did excitement. It was mid-2010, Ireland was four months from a bailout and all anybody talked about was leaving. I seemed to be going the wrong way.

I had a degree in Journalism and German from Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT).  For four years I was told that journalists were being fired, not hired, and few of the 25 who graduated from the course would have a career in the field.

My language proved a saving grace. I originally disliked German and the lectures, but a third year Erasmus semester in the former East German city of Leipzig changed everything.

I fell in love with the city, made amazing friends, had unforgettable experiences and with it came a determination to learn the language and speak it well.

As soon as I finished up my degree, I went back to Leipzig and taught English on a one-year teaching programme. Again the experience was amazing and it was a difficult decision to come home, and not slug it out looking for work in Germany, but it seemed the right one.

After a few days back in Dublin, I walked into a recruitment agency more in hope than expectation. It was the first I’d gone to in my life. The recruiter took one look at my CV and said ‘well there’s not anything in Journalism, but we can certainly work with your German’.

Within a month I had a full-time Customer Services position in Deutsche Bank in Dublin. With little experience the language surely swung it in my favour. Originally, it wasn’t a German-speaking position, but with work being migrated to Ireland from Germany, the more multilingual speakers the bank had, the more flexible they could be.

I couldn’t believe my luck. My preparation to attain the position was being sociable with friends and enjoying my life as much as I could. After all, you don’t learn a language in the classroom. That provides the basics but it’s socialising with friends that loosen you up to bring out the Goethe or Bertolt Brecht in you.

Even the work itself became more rewarding as a result. For the first three months I worked exclusively in English. Then, as expected, work was moved over from Germany and I was asked to move into a bilingual position speaking to customers in German and international banks in English. I didn’t shirk at taking it on.

Being surrounded by German-speakers meant I was around people who could relate to my experiences, where we could compare our countries and laugh at each others cultural intricacies. It made work so much more interesting and, of course, rewarding because this was proof my determination to speak the language was bearing fruit.

Not that it was all plain sailing though. The first phone call I fielded was from an Austrian. It shouldn’t have put me off, but the different accent and the first-time nerves meant I spent more time asking him to repeat what he was saying than I did dealing with his issue. But that just becomes another thing to look back and laugh at with the benefit of experience.

After just over a year in Deutsche Bank I regained my hope in a Journalism career and took the insecure step to go into freelancing. Nevertheless, the experiences there will stand to me and knowing I have an asset like German, which is valued by employers, allows me to take braver decisions knowing if they don’t work out, I’ll have something to fall back on.

We are told that in working life, that to gain essential skills involves hard work. There’s little of that involved in language learning though, at least in the conventional sense. Throw away your inhibitions and immerse yourself as much as you can. You get to live your life and gain an attribute employers crave. Not bad, eh?