There is a common misconception that degrees in the humanities — like English, history and philosophy — are the first nails in the coffin of a young person’s career prospects.
“We need more welders and less (sic) philosophers,” Florida Senator Marco Rubio famously stated on the debate stage. Jeb Bush echoed the sentiment by implying all liberal art majors were destined to work at Chick-fil-A. Not to mention iterations of the same dull question posed toward English majors — “Beyond teaching or becoming the next Hemingway, how do you plan to make money?”
In my experience, humanities skills are undervalued assets applicable across a wide range of industries. In fact, the unemployability of such graduates is widely regarded as myth.
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Degrees in business, finance and STEM fields are, of course, vital to the economy, innovation and more. But without the skills central to liberal arts — for which there is an even more universal need — the economy would stop just as suddenly.
All businesses need good writers and communicators.
English majors and others in the liberal arts arena read, write, communicate, and critique — and then read and write some more. Their relationship with the written and spoken language is nuanced and informed. They are taught to express their thoughts with purpose.
Sure, reading and writing are base requirements for most jobs — but being able to do so expertly is uncommon. Whether writing decks, copy, white papers, business proposals or simple emails, professionals with the skills to communicate their ideas effectively go a long way in any workplace.
This is especially true for people in leadership positions, who must be able to communicate clearly and expertly. As an example, current and former CEOs at companies like Avon, Xerox, Disney and MTV all held English degrees. The founder of Starbucks had a philosophy degree, and the head of American Express, a bachelor’s degree in history.
Related: The 8 Secrets of Great Communicators
Humanity graduates understand people.
Degrees in STEM fields are highly specialized, which is great for specific jobs and goals. But you could argue that STEM skills are like keys that only unlock very particular doors — their purpose is limited.
Humanity degrees, also called social sciences, are called that for a reason — they are the studies of human nature, thought, and creation. Knowing how people think, what the smartest minds have written and how groups behave provides valuable insight into teamwork and client interactions. What some call soft skills are actually key to professional success.
That’s not to say other majors don’t understand people. I’m saying when your education is centered around human thoughts and ideas, it can amplify your success in a work environment.
Creativity drives innovation.
If the emphasis of humanities is on the human, the emphasis of liberal arts (of which humanities is a segment) is on the art. Art is the expression of the human imagination, which takes creativity — something that is critical in the professional world. Creative writing, as an example, teaches the expression of ideas in a variety of forms utilizing narrative, plot, language, metaphors and just about any type of rhetoric you can think of. Most importantly, it teaches out-of-the-box thinking — going beyond what is usual and what is known.
In science, technology, finance and even real estate, creative thinking drives innovation. While it doesn’t take a writer to think creatively, a person accustomed to brainstorming and bending rules will likely have a lot to bring to the table.
Critical analysis is a business skill.
Another thing that sets the humanities apart is their penchant for critical analysis. This comes in the form of peer review, which is ubiquitous in academia, and in taking a text or idea and being forced to dissect it, to improve or disprove it. Critical thinking helps groups and individuals identify what’s presented, evaluate the intent and function, and the examine the results.
In the business world, this is vital. Great ideas cannot be truly great without healthy dose of doubt and without being viewed from all angles and tested for flaws. A person who approaches anything from clients to projects with this mindset is likely to be a company asset. Combined with ambition and drive, it’s a recipe for success.