A BA might be the best way to future-proof your career

March 08, 2016
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Arts degrees tend to be the easy target of tertiary education. Widely derided and generally considered useless, undertaking a BA is a sure way to be mocked for the next three years. However, undertaking a Bachelor of Arts may prepare you for the future better than you think.

Emma White is an Arts graduate who is currently using her degree in the workforce. She graduated with an Honours Degree in Theatre and Performance Studies, and is now the Production and Touring Manager for Lah-Lah Productions.

Emma reckons there’s a definite stigma attached to BAs. She says her studies often weren’t taken seriously because of the broad range of subjects and lack of a specific goal attached to the end of the degree.

“I don’t think Arts degrees are taken seriously at all, because you can’t come out of an Arts degree and walk into a job, like you can if you do a teaching degree or an engineering degree,” she says.

I learnt critical thinking, analysis, how to work with other people and with myself.

However, this isn’t true everywhere in the world. Associate Professor and Director of the University of Sydney’s ARTSS Career-Ready Program, Richard Miles, has taught Classics in the United Kingdom and the USA, where Arts and Humanities studies are valued by employers.

Professor Miles says employers and recruiters prize the skills taught in Arts: communication, efficiently synthesising information, and empathy. “In Britain and America, there’s the idea that what you pick up from university are core skills, and these are core deep skills that will never ever go out of fashion,” he says.

Emma thinks undertaking a BA equipped her with skills that were flexible enough to allow her to be resilient and adaptable in the workforce. “I don’t regret studying Arts at all,” she says. “I learnt critical thinking, analysis, how to work with other people and with myself.”

So why aren’t Arts degrees taken as seriously in Australia? Professor Miles says there’s an idea that tertiary education should be vocational training, meaning you learn a specific skillset for a specific job. While he says this is necessary for some professions, many don’t require specialist training. “There’s been this pegging of what sort of degree is going to give you technical knowledge or insight, so you can then go on to a particular profession,” he says.

The increasing presence of technology in our lives and in the workforce has highlighted our need for human skills.

The development of foundational skills, instead of specific skills intended for specific jobs, is what may make BAs the winning ticket. According to a report released by the Foundation for Young Australians last year, the workforce is facing its biggest upheaval since the industrial revolution. The FYA claims that 60 per cent of current students are studying for jobs that will by radically altered or rendered obsolete by automation.

Another report prepared by the NSW Government states that jobs across a number of industries are at risk of computerisation. Even traditionally safe jobs, like accounting, are threatened, with almost 95 per cent of accounting jobs likely to become computerised in the next 10 to 15 years.

Professor Miles says this period of workforce instability and technological evolution highlights why studying Arts and the humanities is valuable and useful in the workforce. The increasing presence of technology in our lives and in the workforce has highlighted our need for human skills, which are developed when studying the Arts and Humanities. “As we move into an ever more technological world,” he says, “The soft skills of being able to communicate, being able to make sense of technology, and how to advocate and to lead - those old-school skills - become even more important.”

Remy Varga

Remy is multimedia journalist based in Sydney. She likes gender, politics, international relations and is a keen enthusiast of Latin America.

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