The Liberal Arts Edge

Transferable Skills

Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Students and the Job Market

We strongly believe that the most successful graduates are those that follow their passions and study the subjects that most engage their interests and talents, including those who are drawn to study the fine arts, humanities, or social sciences—or, collectively, the liberal arts. However, recently public discourse has questioned the job-readiness of graduates who major in the liberal arts. Nevertheless, recent studies have shown that courses in the arts, humanities, and social sciences do in fact impart essential, transferable skills that are highly valued by employers. The problem has been that graduates in the liberal arts are not always able to describe the full palette of skills they acquired as students.

To help students articulate these skills, we turn to two major surveys of employer attitudes. The first, the 2015 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, identifies some of these key employer expectations for new graduates. Among these expectations are certain transferable skills or attributes that are learned or reinforced in various courses in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. They include:

  • Leadership (acquired by leading group projects)
  • Written Communication skills (acquired through writing research papers, essays, and essay exams)
  • Problem-solving skills  (acquired through participation in research or artistic projects)
  • Ability to work in a team (acquired through participation in group projects)
  • Analytical/Quantitative Reasoning skills (acquired by participating in class discussions or writing essays or exams, or taking courses like Statistics in social science programs or Logic in the Department of Philosophy and Comparative Religion)
  • Verbal Communication skills (acquired by making oral presentations or by participating in class debates and discussions)
  • Computer skills (acquired by using various software packages necessary to complete various CLASS courses)
  • Being detail-oriented (acquired in the process of completing excellent projects, assignments, or papers)
  • Organizational abilities (acquired by leading group projects)
  • Creativity (acquired by conceiving excellent arguments for papers or exams and by participating in various artistic projects or musical groups)

For the full study, see the following site:

http://www.naceweb.org/s11122014/job-outlook-skills-qualities-employers-want.aspx

Another employer survey, conducted in 2006 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), revealed similar results.  Among the essential skills or attributes identified by employers as desirable in potential new employees were:

  • Knowledge of global issues (acquired by taking courses with a global focus)
  • Teamwork skills (acquired through participation in group projects)
  • Critical thinking and analytic reasoning (acquired by participating in class discussions or writing essays or exams also by taking courses in logic)
  • Written and oral communication skills (acquired through writing research papers, essays, and essay exams and also by making oral presentations or by participating in class debates and discussions)
  • Information literacy (acquired through responsible research in libraries, archives, or on the internet)
  • Creativity (acquired by conceiving excellent arguments for papers or exams and by participating in various artistic projects or musical groups)
  • Complex problem solving (acquired through participation in research or artistic projects)
  • Quantitative reasoning (acquired in various programs in the social sciences, particularly in courses like Statistics)
  • Intercultural competence (acquired through study of a foreign language or culture, participation in study abroad programs)

Although not every one of these essential skills is learned in every liberal arts course, on the whole they tie in to learning outcomes in courses across our curriculum. Again, students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences should learn to articulate these essential skills at job interviews, and we are currently exploring new kinds of courses, tentatively identified as “careers across the curriculum” that will help students do just that.

See the appendix of the following study for more details:

https://aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/GlobalCentury_ExecSum_3.pdf

A final attribute identified by employers in the AAC&U was “integrated learning” or learning “applied knowledge in real-world settings.”  This is the kind of learning acquired by participating in an internship or field experience related to the student’s major. While not all CLASS majors require internships or field experience, all of our majors can make such opportunities available to their students. We strongly encourage majors in the liberal arts areas to seek out internships and field experiences, even if they are not required in one’s major.

How important is your choice of major?

The ideal university education emphasizes both breadth and depth of study. Typically, the university’s general education requirements are designed to give students a breadth of knowledge across a number of key knowledge and skill areas.  Students are invited to undertake a deeper exploration of a single field of knowledge by choosing a major, which introduces students to the characteristic “ways of knowing” typical of a certain sector of the universe of knowledge. Choosing a major is important because the most successful graduates are those who, in choosing their majors, follow their interests, talents, and passions.

But in the search for a post-graduate career, the choice of major is important but perhaps not critically important. While the NACE study referenced above indicates that the choice of a major is a significant factor for employers, a second study by the AAC&U, published in 2014, suggests that the choice of a major is not critical to success in the job market. In fact, this study indicates that about 40% of all baccalaureate degree holders are working in a profession that is unrelated to their major. In addition, in a 2013 AAC&U survey of employers, 93% of those surveyed indicated that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.”  The study also argues that liberal arts majors are “especially well prepared to succeed in volatile job market conditions and in environments that put a premium on flexibility and creativity.” A reasonable conclusion to draw from the AAC&U research is that it would be unwise for a student to ignore his or her own passions and talents and be guided only by perceived job opportunities when choosing a major.

To obtain a copy of this report, see the following link:

https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/publications/how-liberal-arts-and-sciences-majors-fare-employment-report

Finally, the life stories of many previous CLASS alumni (including those featured on our CLASS TV channel broadcast in this lounge) vividly demonstrate that graduates from every major in our college have been able to fashion notably successful careers.