Arts Education Develops Important Workplace Skills

Go ahead – sign up for an art class. It could be something that separates you from other graduates. Employers searching for workers who can think creatively, collaborate and communicate may find them among graduates who have had arts education as part of their higher education. There is no doubt that digital literacy, technical skills and STEM knowledge are important for employees. But the demand for this knowledge shifts and alters as technology develops and changes workplace operations. The skills that remain in constant demand are the soft skills that make it possible for people to work together and accomplish more than they could on their own.

Soft skills are a top priority for many employers. The National Association of Colleges and Employers asked businesses to prioritize the skills they looked for when they were recruiting potential employees. The top three skills named were the ability to work in a team structure, ability to make decisions and solve problems, and the ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) LEAP Challenge is an initiative designed to promote liberal education that includes arts education as an answer to the need for these soft skills. The LEAP Challenge – Education for a World of Unscripted Problems outlines how important arts education is when college graduates need high levels of knowledge as well as skills that help them be successful in today’s workplace. The idea of “unscripted problems” describes what today’s graduates and workers face as technological changes continue to move toward what is new and still unknown.

The “Essential Learning Outcomes” of the LEAP campaign are designed to give students “Knowledge of Human cultures and the Physical and Natural World” through broad studies that include the arts with science and math, social sciences, history and languages. While these broad studies will contain knowledge and information to develop hard skills, they also will develop the soft skills employers are seeking. AACU names them “Intellectual and Practical Skills,” that include:
• Inquiry and analysis
• Critical and creative thinking
• Written and oral communication
• Quantitative literacy
• Information literacy
• Teamwork and problem solving

This mix of skills and ability to use information is the solution to employers’ searches for employees who can innovate for the long term. Hart Research report Falling Short: College Learning and Career Success states, “The majority of employers continue to say that possessing both field-specific knowledge and a broad range of knowledge and skills is very important for recent college graduates to achieve long-term success. Very few indicate that acquiring knowledge and skills mainly for a specific field or position is the best path for long-term success.”

When students include arts education in their higher education they will have experiences that they can later integrate into their work, experiences that will help them learn for long-term success. Martha Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, weighs in on the importance of arts in challenging the way people think. “Artists always ask the imagination to move beyond its usual confines, to see the work in new ways.” Encouraging employees who are pursuing higher education to experience arts education will generate the ability to think “outside the box” to develop innovative, creative solutions to problems.

In a world of fast-paced STEM changes and global challenges, arts education that develops soft skills and higher level thinking can make a profound difference in how employees apply their technical knowledge and skills for the benefit of their company. “Innovation and creativity are core goals of the twenty-first-century economy,” says David W. Ostoby, president of Pomona College. “It is a truism that success in the future will involve making new connections and coming up with new ideas, not simply using one’s training in a well-defined career.”