The Practical Liberal Arts

Hiring managers, well-meaning family members, and media pundits continue to assume the liberal arts are the educational breeding ground for the exploratory and artsy, producing graduates who have neither job skills nor job prospects. Instead of crisp technicians ready to crunch numbers and take home bonus pay, these misguided people think liberal arts majors are simply preparing for lifetimes of noble poverty.

But the truth is liberal arts students are ready to take on paying jobs and make a difference.

In fact, they’re especially well prepared for jobs in business. Why? Because they’ve  learned to think, reason, analyze, decide, discern, and evaluate–the kinds of abilities business hiring managers are DESPERATE to find.

But humanities and social sciences students get precious little encouragement to present themselves to business hiring managers as viable prospects for paying jobs. I think that’s because there hasn’t been enough lively thinking done about how to apply the practical liberal arts to the everyday needs of business.

So how do we get the point across? I suggest we stop trying to explain it in great detail and instead introduce a new phrase into the everyday job-seeking dialogue of liberal arts students. The new phrase: the practical liberal arts.

And here they are, the “practical” liberal arts:

Writing

Speaking

Reading between the lines

Analytical skills

Planning and organizing

Managing qualitative information

Cultural literacy

Leadership

Emotional intelligence

Research

Systemic thinking

Foreign language proficiency

Those are the abilities employers want their workforce to have! And where better to learn them than by studying the humanities and social sciences?

Now, the next step is helping prospective employers—and students—understand how to apply the practical liberal arts to actual work. A couple of examples:

Analytical skills – business analysis; project administration; file management; process analysis.

Planning and organizing – project lead role; strategic planning; budget planning and documentation.

Research – market research; data quality management; competitive research.

Speaking – presentation preparation; sales presentations; corporate or client training.

And there’s plenty more where that came from.

The liberal arts are practical only if we think about and describe the ways in which we practice them.

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