‘Humanities graduates are just as employable’: do the sciences really lead to more jobs?

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The Guardian have opened up the proverbial can of worms when it comes to STEM graduates and whether they have more career success than their Humanities counterparts  – and in the midst of a Digital Revolution, the debate has never been more relevant. The divide between STEM and Humanities and the impact they have on graduates’ employability has always been a hotly debated topic  – but now, it seems it’s no longer as clear-cut. The demand for interdisciplinary teams is increasing, with employers seeking graduates with extra-curricular activities on their CV’s, and looking for alternative skills that could be beneficial to the workplace. Diversity is key – and Humanities graduates, with the interdisciplinary, analytical and so-called ‘softer skills’, appear just as sought after as their STEM counterparts.

STEM subjects are the ‘golden ticket’ to career success

STEM

The importance of STEM and their impact on graduates obtaining jobs after graduation cannot be underestimated. Since the government launched an educational strategy to improve expertise in STEM, 50,000 additional school pupils gained A*-C grades in maths GCSEs in the following decade, according to a 2016 report by the Royal Academy of Engineering. STEM subjects have always been seen as a golden ticket to guaranteed career success and it is no surprise that students choose these programmes, with the promise of a decent job at the end of their study. STEM subjects have become even more popular since education minister Gavin Williamson recently unveiled plans to prioritise “subjects which deliver strong graduate employment outcomes in areas of economic and societal importance, such as STEM.” Particularly over the last 25 years we have seen a global digital boom: Nida Broughton, chief economist at the Social Market Foundation claims that “investments in infrastructure and the pace of technological innovation means growth in science, research, engineering and technology careers will continue to outpace other occupations.” This period of uncertainty we are currently in further adds to the clamour for students enrolling on STEM subjects as it allows them to have a clearly defined career path.

Flexible skills allow Humanities graduates to adapt

Humanities vs. STEM

Of course, having a defined career path is attractive to many and is one less thing to worry about upon graduating, but those taking arts, Humanities and social science degrees have the soft skills to be ‘work ready’ and end up in jobs in eight of the 10 fastest-growing sectors of the economy more often than their STEM graduate counterparts, according to a report by the British Academy, published this year.  Harriet Barnes of the British Academy states, “Humanities, social science and arts graduates have always been as employable as STEM graduates,” adding that “they’re able to find new jobs in economic downturns and when made redundant.” This could be reassuring to recent SOAS graduates in the UK, particularly as it’s been reported that there are 695,000 fewer people on payrolls of British companies since March 2020. Whilst we are unfortunately in the middle of a global recession, Humanities graduates can utilise their flexible skills to adapt and have more reason to be optimistic than their STEM counterparts.

Combination of STEM and Humanities to influence behaviour change

There has always been an archaic view that it’s Humanities v STEM and whilst there is some truth to that statement, there is an increasing demand for the two disciplines to work closer than ever before. Living through a digital revolution is all well and good, but making the most amazing tools and technology in the world means nothing if you can’t convince people to use it. 

SOAS careers; STEM, Humanities

Of course there are some jobs that need specific skills which won’t be open to most Humanities graduates, but Humanities subjects bring about behavioural change, combining the technical elements of STEM subjects and the social elements of Humanities to develop interdisciplinary teams.

One way to form interdisciplinary teams early on could be to see UK Universities change to the American system, whereby students take core subjects in a four-year programme but also have electives to do subjects outside their specialism. 

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester’s Alliance Business School, says, “The American system works well in that you get a more rounded person coming out the end of the system. In the UK, once you get into the university, it’s very narrow.” Although this is not currently possible at SOAS, it is worth thinking about what else you can do to become a more well rounded person. SOAS offers a fantastic range of opportunities to study abroad, learn one of the 40+  languages or join a society which puts you out of your comfort zone.
There is no denying the importance of STEM education and the economic and technological impacts it has on the world. But STEM standing alone, or by itself atop the educational mountain, will soon prove counterproductive. Humanities give you the opportunity to keep your options open, take classes that help you become a good communicator and, as you interact with a host of different people, it helps strengthen your people skills, shaping the leaders of tomorrow.

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