Skills in humanities directly relevant to 21st century workplace
Take a moment and ask yourself these questions:
- What can examining history teach us about where our country, and even the world, is going?
- How can studying western philosophy help us see new solutions to old problems within a company, or teach us to ask thought-provoking questions that challenge scientific fact?
- How can studying conflict resolution help us communicate more clearly with each other?
- What can learning about world cultures tell us about collaborating with and managing people in other countries?
Believe it or not, the answers to these humanities-based questions can enhance the skills of individuals working in science- or business-related professions. That's because in a world driven by professions heavy in technology, science and business, the skills gained in pursuing courses in the humanities can give an edge to new and veteran employees, and therefore to companies.
Counterintuitive? Not really.
"Many people misunderstand the role and relevance of humanities topics to other disciplines," says Barb Baderman, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences at University of Phoenix. "Certainly our society is heavy in technology and science. However, if the skills students learn do not include some of the softer skills — such as understanding that doing business in China is different than in Germany based on cultural norms and differences — then they're at a disadvantage in the global marketplace."
As an example, Baderman considers a student pursuing a business degree with a concentration in management who may work with businesses at multiple sites across the world. In this case, the student would benefit from electives that help them better understand their employees and customers, such as Contemporary Religion, Geography, Cultural Diversity, Interpersonal Relationships and Intercultural Relationships.
"Intentionally choosing elective courses that compliment and enhance the learning in their degree program is key to a well-rounded graduate," says Baderman.
Humanities skills for a modern workplace
So is the relevance of humanities to business and science merely theory or conjecture? Not at all. There's a lot of buzz surrounding the need for a more educated workforce, and more advanced skills to compete in the global marketplace. Surveys conducted by organizations such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), for example, indicate that employers have been desperately seeking people who possess more than just the hard or "technical" skills directly related to their job.
A recent blog post in Harvard Business Review by Tony Golsby-Smith suggests the same thing. He posits that it's not enough to simply have a command of the hard skills that form the foundation of many professions — it takes soft skills found in studying subjects within the humanities.
"[O]ur educational systems focus on teaching science and business students to control, predict, verify, guarantee, and test data. It doesn't teach how to navigate 'what if' questions or unknown futures," writes Golsby-Smith. "People trained in the humanities who study Shakespeare's poetry, or Cézanne's paintings, say, have learned to play with big concepts, and to apply new ways of thinking to difficult problems that can't be analyzed in conventional ways" (Golsby-Smith, 2011).
For today's employers, this translates into a need for employees who have certain skills sets. Several sources show similarities in what employers are looking for:
- Golsby-Smith mentions innovation, communication and presentation, and critical thinking are imperative to helping companies not just succeed but excel (Golsby-Smith, 2011).
- A 2010 American Management Association survey shows that executives need a workforce skilled in "critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation" and that these skills will grow in importance in the future (Partnership, 2010).
- Survey results from SHRM in 2008 — "Critical Skills Needs and Resources for the Changing Workforce" — revealed that "[o]verall, employers placed the greatest weight on employee adaptability and critical thinking skills. HR professionals and employees both reported that adaptability/flexibility and critical thinking/problem-solving skills were of greatest importance now compared with two years ago" (Society, 2008).
To prepare students to meet these needs, the University focuses it curriculum on equipping students with these skills:
- Critical thinking, problem solving, questioning
- Agility, adaptability, flexibility
- Initiative, self-direction, entrepreneurialism, resourcefulness
- Innovation, creativity, curiosity, imagination
- Accessing, analyzing, synthesizing information
- Global citizenship, social and cross-cultural interaction
- Productivity and accountability
- Ethical decision-making
- Multi-disciplinary decision-making
"Almost all these skills are by-products of the humanities," says Baderman. "For example, innovation, creativity, curiosity and imagination can be developed from understanding art and music and their unlimited potential to communicate. Applied to a business degree program, for example, students can see opportunities to communicate business objectives through creative media. All our courses are created to encourage thinking outside of the box, view things from other perspectives and apply these new perspectives to a number of areas."
College of Humanities and Sciences answers a need
To meet the growing need for communications-related soft skills, Baderman led the effort to revise the Bachelor of Science in Communication degree program in 2009 by adding three new concentrations: Culture and Communication, Communication and Technology, and Marketing and Sales Communications.
"These concentrations allow for students to look at communications in areas where they find a high level of interest," explains Baderman. "For example, students who take Marketing and Sales Communications have completed the entire host of courses related to communications — from theory, to interpersonal, to intercultural. Sales and marketing are focused on the messaging and how it is received by the receiver. This messaging understanding is drawn from a variety of courses in their core — for example, the intercultural communication course provides a foundation for understanding how a particular message may be perceived."
Baderman says that graduates in other disciplines use the skills they learn from humanities to enhance their understanding of the world around them. "In the humanities we have the ability to augment learning and create some of the softer skills sets that are important for other degrees. Incorporating humanities courses can provide a more complete, 360-degree education to enhance any professional focus."