What use is an arts degree?

Carved in stone?: being an arts graduate doesn't rule you out of a tech job, says Patrick Hennessy

Carved in stone?: being an arts graduate doesn't rule you out of a tech job, says Patrick Hennessy

 

THE READERS:What you said on irishtimes.com this week

Peter McGuire, writing in Tuesday’s Irish Times, looked at whether the stereotype of arts graduates as “esoteric philosophers, unemployed writers and ready-made civil servants” matched reality. McGuire, citing a survey of new hires in the past 12 months, noted that just 12 per cent of them had humanities degrees, which he contrasted with the high demand for graduates with science, engineering and technology skills. McGuire asked why, with such a specific skills shortage, arts subjects are still popular at third level. The article sparked a debate about the benefits of an arts education. Here’s a selection of the online comments.

Since when has the only benefit of a degree been the prospect of a job afterwards? twizzer88

I am 30 years in the HR profession, now retired from the UN and running my own HR consultancy. Companies ask me to design job profiles and map competencies or group skill sets for specific jobs. Practically every one of these managers emphasises: (a) high-level interpersonal skills and clear ability to work in a team; (b) emotional intelligence; (c) self-awareness; (d) analytical skills; (e) proactive and calculated risk taking personalities; (f) self-starter; (g) life-long learner; (h) good time managers; (i) good work-planning skills; and (j) good communication skills.

After those skills they would like technical skills. How many times have I heard them plead with me to design jobs that will exclude nerds, time wasters, submissive passive people who await instructions for everything, team wreckers, etc?

Technical education is icing on a cake. Any education that develops good analytical skills and forms a rounded, self-aware, emotionally intelligent, assertive, proactive personality which can work in teams has produced a successful employee.

However, the nature of work is fast evolving. Location- and time-measured work is gone. Product-measured work from any location is the new work. This calls for great maturity and self-discipline on the part of the employee, and great trust between boss and subaltern.

Young “millennials” need to remember this. They don’t do time well. PatrickHennessy

Solution: if you love something but it’s not going to provide a sustainable and reasonable wage, then do it in your spare time after work. Peter O’Neill

I went to university to get an education, not a job. I didn’t want to go through life with a muddled grasp of the essential issues.

And I did have a long, rewarding career.

As noted above, students with arts degrees often think more broadly than those whose focus is narrower.

In the past, medical schools preferred students who received degrees in chemistry and biology. Now it is not uncommon for students with diverse degrees (art history, sociology, literature) to become physicians – as long as they have the core sciences as well.

Broad education allows individuals to “think outside the box” and not as technicians. They may be more likely to have creative approaches and solutions, as they can draw on concepts and principles that originate outside of laboratories.

Arts education also enables an individual to have a better grasp of the world around them, and issues which affect their lives. The most successful businesspeople have a good grasp of the range of social and cultural traditions in this “global economy”. Arthur Cholakis

This 30-year-old with a BA in philosophy has no regrets at all about his choice of studies. Studying philosophy was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and it was a choice of study that had a profound impact on who I am, how I think and how I approach the world.

I now work in the financial world as a broker in derivatives and corporate/ sovereign bonds (a job I enjoy).

I get asked a lot by students on tours around the stock exchange what they should study to get a job here. I generally tell them that studying economics would be a help but that it may be difficult to get invited to an interview when you are just one of the hundreds of business-studies graduates applying for financial positions.

Four new people have joined our company in the last year, and only one of these people has an economics background. The rest are arts students between 24 and 30. I find this surprising myself given that on the website it stipulates that an economics background is required for positions. It just goes to show, though, that it is not the be all and end all, by any means.

Don’t rush into the jobs market; study what you want. Daragh7

Should the State pay for someone to study philosophy and geography when there are potholes to be fixed? FearfeasaÓMaol Chonaire

Humanities subjects are highly valued in sophisticated societies in Europe and the United States. In Ireland, where the population was traditionally poorly educated, intellectualism has always been regarded with suspicion. You just have to walk down our streets and see our houses to witness how visually illiterate we are to aesthetics. We become hysterical when asked to rationalise social problems, and our politicians farm difficult questions and problems out to the courts. Too many people are doing arts; indeed, there are probably too many kids stuffed into universities full stop. In former times people trained for professions such as the law or accounting and banking outside of the universities. It would be far better to have leaner universities populated by students who would benefit best from a third-level education. Neil O’Brien

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