Forks go on the left.
There. You can graduate! I’ll have $5,000 please, for all you ever needed to know, you young, naive, liberal arts major. Now go out into the wild blue yonder and do with your education what you will!
Employability? For an arts major? What is this mystical concept of which you speak? As an arts student you are good for nothing but serving tables and making espresso. Though, coming from the University of Winnipeg, at least you can do it ironically.
So say the naysayers, usually glancing over horn-rimmed spectacles, while you quake in your boots and contemplate a future of ramen suppers in dingy apartments. But unfortunately for the instant noodle manufacturers of the world, these naysayers are wrong.
As a Political Science student, I would love a job where I could read philosophy all day and apply it to government policy. Sadly these jobs are few and far between, but that does not mean my degree is useless.
In this economy, there will be arts students who cannot find work directly related to their degree. It is important to remember, however, that the crowded, underfunded world of scientific research can keep out even the most qualified of chemists, biologists and physicists as well.
More importantly, degrees (all of them) teach you two types of skills: general and technical. General skills include things such as researching, writing and working with a team. Technical skills are more specific, for example, lab procedures, film editing or accounts payable.
Exclusion from certain professions often means you lack certain technical skills. Knowing how to bandage a wound, for example, is key for any athletic therapist. An oft-repeated criticism of arts degrees in particular is that they offer little to no technical-skill development, and therefore are of little value to employers.
However, it is this strong basis in general skills that makes arts degrees incredibly valuable in certain emerging sectors of the economy. A recent Forbes article detailed how Silicon Valley’s biggest tech giants, Facebook and Uber amongst them, are actively seeking out not electrical engineers or data scientists, as might be suspected, but those with a background in the arts.
When asked why, they pointed directly to a B.A.’s basis in creativity and argumentation – key skills necessary for sales and marketing.
A general skill-set also allows for flexibility. Yes, a background in English means you could re-enact Shakespeare for your co-workers, but it also means that you can write, synthesize information, and research effectively. These skills lend themselves to a huge variety of positions in journalism, law, public relations, business and more.
The fact is that getting a job right out of university and staying there for the next 30 years is no longer the reality. A solid arts education means that you are not only flexible, but mouldable to whatever context you might find yourself in.
So, yes, the fork goes to the left of your ramen. But only for the next four years.
Adrienne Tessier is the UWSA Arts Director
Published in Volume 70, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 17, 2015)