The report confirms what many business leaders have been saying for years: Educators should be leaning harder on the humanities to build those foundational skills in graduates — not just through degree programs in the humanities, but also by incorporating more humanistic teaching into STEM and business education.
Liberal arts rule a digital world
Investor Mark Cuban says the employment market of the near future will demand fewer hard skills since technical tasks are increasingly being performed by computers. Instead, he says, we’ll need more people who can put information into human context.
Steve Jobs, the late co-founder and CEO of Apple, once said: “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
Recent books such as Scott Hartley’s The Fuzzy and The Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World and Christian Madsbjerg’s Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm, make similar points very powerfully.
Research shows that exposure to the humanities is linked to higher empathy and emotional intelligence among trainee doctors.
Still, we keep still hearing the same question from parents and even from humanities students themselves: “What can you do with a humanities degree?”
Empathy, tolerance for ambiguity, wisdom
It can be hard to convince these parents and students that the humanities are the training they need.
You might be writing a history essay, for example, but you’re developing important broader skills by doing it.
You’re gathering information from different points of view, you’re using it to marshal an effective argument and to present it effectively in writing, with supporting evidence.
The fact that the content is history doesn’t matter in the end: You’re developing skills in research, critical thinking and written communication.
A study conducted across five medical schools in the United States found that trainee doctors who were exposed to the humanities had higher levels of positive personal qualities such as empathy, tolerance for ambiguity, wisdom, emotional intelligence, self-efficacy and visual-spatial skills. Exposure to the humanities also reduced levels of some components of burnout.
A valuable investment
We won’t need as many coders, but we will need people with digital literacy. Many STEM jobs will be automated. A disruptive culture needs people who can adapt.
It takes time to cultivate the essential skills that enable adaptation. Learning to work collaboratively and to understand new perspectives takes time.
Not everyone is willing to wait, nor do they necessarily trust the outcome of a humanities education. Many employers still recruit for degrees and credentials that apply specifically to the field. They may say the “soft skills” are important, but how much of a priority do they really make of them?
The skills that result from studying the humanities develop obliquely, and that may have caused us to lose our sense of their value.
Yet these are highly transferable skills. They are valuable and necessary today. They are worth making the investments of time and trust, because they will be worth even more in the years to come.