As an undergraduate student studying history, I was frequently asked: “So, are you going to become a teacher?” Later, as I continued my study of history in graduate school, this question evolved slightly: “So, are you going to become a professor?”
The terminus of both pointed but well-meaning questions was the same – the assumption that a degree in history could only lead to a career in education. What else could studying history be good for, right?
Turns out: a lot.
According to Humanities Indicators, a full 57% of graduates with a bachelor’s degree in humanities move into management, professional, and related occupations, and a further 10% are found in business roles. Only 12% go on to education-related occupations.
Studying Humanities for Broad-Based Soft Skills
So, what value do humanities graduates bring to the workforce – and specifically to roles in business?
First and foremost, humanities degrees equip graduates with broad-based soft skills that allow them to quickly adapt to, and thrive in, a variety of workplace environments. The foremost skills honed by the pursuit of a humanities degree include:
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- Critical thinking
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Employers are quick to recognize the value of hiring employees with well-developed soft skills. According to a 2019 LinkedIn survey, 57% of senior leaders consider soft skills more important than hard skills. Additionally, when these leaders were asked to identify the hard skills companies need most, two of the top five were verging into soft skill territory: analytical reasoning and people management.
Humanities Degrees Create Communicators & Problem-Solvers
I am not alone in ascertaining that the greatest benefit of a humanities degree is “the emphasis it puts on teaching students to think, critique and persuade – often in the grey areas where there isn’t much data available or you need to work out what to believe.”
These skills are developed in the classroom, in library cubicles, at home, and during office hours. And much of this development is rooted in two seemingly innocuous but extremely valuable skills: reading and writing.
Humanities course instructors are perhaps infamous for issuing exacting and lengthy required reading lists. Students are expected to rapidly parse, digest, and analyze assigned readings to prepare for frequent seminar discussions, write essays, or study for exams.
This forces humanities students to not only develop advanced reading comprehension and critical thinking skills, but also learn how to most effectively communicate these ideas – both in writing and verbally.
This includes inferring gaps in the absence of information to build a complete picture or story, managing and organizing large swaths of information with often disparate sources, and being able to constructively communicate with colleagues or clients.
Ask any writer for writing advice and they will tell you: read voraciously and write as much as you can. In this sense, a humanities degree is a veritable crash-course in effective communication, helping to develop skills that can be leveraged in any occupation.
Importance of Soft Skills in the Age of Technology
Even technology giants like Microsoft have begun to recognize the value of humanities and liberal arts degrees. Although Bill Gates once argued that liberal arts graduates will stagnate in the modern economy, seven years later the company completed an about-face and recognized the importance of lessons from the liberal arts to unleashing the full potential of technology, such as AI:
“As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.”
Recognition of the value of humanities degrees is not isolated to AI applications: large tech companies are increasingly hiring humanities graduates to fill gaps in their workforce. For example, Opentable has hired English majors to communicate with and engage restaurant owners, and Uber has hired psychology majors for customer support roles.
The Value of a Humanities Degree in the Workforce
Although the direct connection between a humanities degree and a post-graduation job may not be immediately clear, what is clear is this: humanities students offer a wide range of skills that are easily translatable to business-oriented environments.
Mentor Works publishes a blog five days a week, covering a realm of topics such as government funding, business consulting, market trends, professional development, and more. Make sure to register for the Weekly Newsletter so you don’t miss out on Canadian SME news!