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.

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