Often when working with a client, a real bias emerges against a Bachelor of Arts (BA). As career specialists we work hard to counter these ideas, as they are often based on misinformation. So we thought it time to do a big shout out for the often maligned BA.

bachelor-of-artsIn recent years there has been a strong focus from government on the value and need to study the STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, because they ‘appear’ to provide an immediate gateway to a job. Of course these are important subjects, but the consequence of this particular focus has resulted in less funding available for Arts subjects and pressure on students to study STEM in lieu of Arts, regardless of their interest and ability. This is contrary to the importance of pursuing a subject because of your interest in it.

Blogging for The Huffington Post in 2012, Westminster College President George Forsythe said, “The important challenges of contemporary life are not confined to academic disciplines. They are global issues. When students are only trained to focus on a very specific skill set, they miss the larger picture and their evaluative skills suffer as a result.” He also adds that employers can provide graduates with the necessary specific training, while the role of higher education institutions is to develop them as lifelong learners.

Victoria University’s Careers and Employment Service conducted their regular Employability Skills Survey this earlier this year. The goals of the survey were to:

  • Identify the top ten skills and attributes which employers look for in new graduates and students
  • Explore the level of competency expected for each of these skills and attributes at the time of hiring
  • Identify employer satisfaction with the levels of competency that Victoria students and graduates demonstrate for the skills and attributes identified as the most important.

The top skills and attributes identified by the 346 eligible responses from local, regional, national, and international organisations were:

  1. Work Ethic
  2. Verbal Communication
  3. Energy & Enthusiasm
  4. Analytical & Critical thinking
  5. Problem Solving
  6. Team Work
  7. Interpersonal Skills
  8. Written Communication Skills
  9. Self-management
  10. Initiative and Enterprise

For a 21st century graduate to survive in our continually changing technological world, regardless of what subjects they study, they will need skills beyond those specific to any one subject. The real door openers to good jobs and meaningful employment are skills that aren’t solely associated with the STEM subjects.

In fact, many of the critical employability skills sound very much like those that are developed in a BA course of study. So what are some of the skills that a student will gain while studying towards a BA?

  • Critical, lateral and independent thinking – the foundation for learning and success in any field
  • Communication, both written and through presentations
  • Awareness of cultural and political differences and global awareness
  • The ability to understand, assess and evaluate issues
  • Thinking and acting creatively
  • Organising workloads and working to deadlines
  • Reading text and picking out the essential points
  • Retaining and absorbing large amounts of information
  • Writing well in a variety of formats
  • Conveying meaning in a precise way
  • Conducting research and evaluating sources
  • Leading and participating in discussions
  • Working alone and taking initiative
  • Developing opinions, proposing ideas and theories
  • Being objective
  • Debating and persuading others about a point of view
  • Being confident in your opinions
  • Developing lifelong learning skills and intellectual curiosity

We are not suggesting that BA subjects are better or worse than subjects that are specific to the STEM subjects, but we want to emphasise the VALUE of studying a BA.

In a NZ Herald article in 2013, Bob Jones claimed that his company only employs history or classic graduates because they demonstrate curiosity and independence and are easy to teach.

Steve Jobs has famously stated that for technology to be truly brilliant, it must be coupled with artistry. “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough,” he said. “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.”

Employers are increasingly recognizing the value of Arts subjects because they develop the very skills that are so desperately needed in the challenging work environments that exist today. So please don’t rush to condemn the BA as a course of study. It might be the very thing that opens doors to the job of your dreams.