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Why studying an arts degree is a smart choice for your future

What do humanities graduates learn at university that they can apply to the real world? It’s a question you might have asked yourself while weighing up your study options, or contemplating whether studying is worth it.

While business degrees have become more popular, arts degrees have got a bad rep. But a recent study by Deloitte Access Economics, The Value of the Humanities, highlights just how valuable they really are.

Developing broad but technical skills

Dr Sarah Pinto, historian and Course Director for Bachelor of Arts at Deakin University, says arts degrees are still a favourite among prospective students. ‘The flexibility and diversity of the degree and the many ways you can undertake it is part of the appeal,’ she says.

But it’s this diversity that gets humanities criticised because it’s seen as a sign that the degree is too general, lacking in specialised technical skills. By analysing graduate outcomes, employer satisfaction surveys and consultations with global businesses the Deloitte Access Economics study reveals this is just not the case. Home to majors such as law, criminology and politics, arts degrees teach technical skills like research, quantitative analysis, policy development, software, and foreign language – all highly specialist.

Meeting the growing demand for transferable skills

Technical skills seem to be what are marketed as the most valued in the workforce, but in today’s market it’s actually transferable skills that are in high demand and short supply.

Employers have always valued transferable skills. The Deloitte report includes findings from a 2009 survey of employers revealing that the skills they highly valued were communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and the ability to assimilate new knowledge – all transferable skills learnt in the humanities. Dr Pinto says that these skills are not ‘general skills’ or ‘soft skills’ like they’re sometimes described, but are in fact, essential to every industry.

‘Transferable skills are required across a range of different career professions – business, government, community sector, not-for-profits. There’s no limit to their value,’ Dr Pinto says.

The demand in transferable skills is forecast to increase from 53% in 2000, to 63% by 2030. Employers have identified gaps in the supply of transferable skills, up to 45 percentage points for communication skills (e.g. 72% of employers demanded communication skills but the supply was only 27%.)

What do transferable skills offer employers?

While technology transforms, jobs requiring only technical skills are at risk of becoming redundant and graduates who are able to think critically will be even more in-demand. Dr Pinto says critical thinking is a skill artificial intelligence can’t replace. ‘Critical thinking is thinking about an issue from multiple points of view, picking it apart, and coming up with possible solutions,’ she says.

Employees with good communication and higher levels of emotional judgement are able to relate to clients better, contribute to teamwork and work independently.

Humanities graduates often have higher language and cross-cultural communication skills, and these are imperative for working across international markets. The Deloitte study states that these skills contribute to higher revenues, productivity and profitability.

'Transferable skills are required across a range of different career professions – business, government, community sector, not-for-profits. There’s no limit to their value.'

Dr Sarah Pinto,
Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

Understanding society and improving social outcomes

Complex problems that have been described as ‘wicked’ problems, like obesity and indigenous disadvantage, require a broader understanding of the world. These problems call for employees who have the ability to respond to social, cultural and economic issues in a multidisciplinary way. Deloitte Access Economics argues that arts graduates are well-placed to succeed in environments such as public service because they have both transferable and technical skills to tackle the issues at hand.

‘I think the valuable thing about any humanities area is the ability to think critically about the world. To be able to find real information in a time of increasing misinformation,’ Dr Pinto says.

When graduates return to Deakin to talk to current students about where their degrees have taken them, Dr Pinto says they often say the skills they developed in writing, communication and critical thinking have been the most valuable to their careers. One in particular said her arts degree gave her the ability to ‘read the play’ – useful in any work environment.

What about money?

You might be thinking, well this is all well and good but what about money? Some humanities graduates tend to move into occupations with lower financial benefits than, for example, those that attract commerce or engineering graduates. But the good news is that these occupations provide a high overall level of job satisfaction. And throughout their lifetime, according to Deloitte, humanities graduates still earn approximately $200,000 more after tax than those without a tertiary education, and $270,000 more if they study arts with law.

With the growing need for transferable skills in the workforce, along with the range of technical skills on offer, the arts, Dr Pinto says, have an ‘enormous amount of career-related value.’

Thinking about a degree in humanities? Tailor your course to your interests with a Bachelor of Arts at Deakin.

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Dr Sarah Pinto
Dr Sarah Pinto

Course director, Bachelor of Arts, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

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