Hooray, arts gets its groove back

Wednesday, December 19, 2018 - 13:41

Gabriel Imbrailo, 23, is a BA (Anthropology) final year student at Macquarie University. She swapped to anthropology from science and admits there have been times she wasn't sure she'd made the right move.

"At one stage I was concerned about my future. I thought, 'I'll just have this weird degree that no one understands', but the professors and career advisers have given me the confidence that there is quite a lot I can do with it," she says.

She's already bringing her expertise to corporate Australia, as part of a research project for a large stockbroking company seeking to create a more diverse workplace. "Drawing on my anthropology studies, I was able to make recommendations about how to introduce women and older people to what is traditionally a young man's role.

"Arts is not as rigid a learning structure as some other degrees. You are able to explore different avenues and learn techniques to apply to everyday life."

Lack of rigidity in favour of relativism is swinging back into demand. A recent study commissioned by Macquarie University and conducted by Deloitte Access Economics suggests that evolving globalisation, technological advances including artificial intelligence and fast-changing work environments have re-focused employers' minds.

The study, titled The Value of the Humanities, released last month, suggests skills that will be highly valued in future include critical and analytical thinking, communication and a host of interpersonal capabilities. Which is good news for students enrolling in an arts degree.

Professor Martina Mollering, Executive Dean, Faculty of Arts at Macquarie, says humanities and social sciences students can have digital, cultural and interpersonal skills as well as the high levels of literacy considered critical to meeting the challenges of increasingly complex societies.

"The Deloitte report identified some 30 technical skills students may acquire in a humanities degree that are highly valued by employers," she says.

Skills includes quantitative analysis, policy development, software and languages, and 'transferables' such as communication, teamwork, innovation and emotional judgment, which have, at their core, the ability to solve problems.

"The proportion of the work force with transferable skills, communication skills in particular, is forecast to rise steeply over the next decade. One of the primary values a humanities degree instils is the ability to recognise, critically analyse and communicate different points of view," Professor Möllering says.

Humanities studies can help form the basis for mutual understanding, promoting tolerant, democratic societies, she says.

"It is well-recognised that humanities students develop extensive capabilities, especially critical thinking and problem solving, through their study of society, history, language and reasoning, as well as ideas, movements and theories in culture. In-depth engagement with their respective disciplines gives them a broad understanding of the world and the ways in which humans connect and interact.

"Humanities graduates also have a well-developed ethical compass and are equipped to make a major contribution to understanding how Australian and global societies and economies can adapt to rapid change to the benefit of all."

Having helped a corporate see how employing more women and older people may ultimately help boost its own bottom line, Gabriel Imbrail now has her eye on international aid and development. "I think we can find better and more practical solutions for communities. I want to help target aid money more effectively," she says.

Macquarie Uni, eyeing the future, is also developing a new Bachelor of Arts program with more employer input.

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