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Arts boost as bosses put humanity into business


Sarah Mortell, President of the Trinity College Philosophical Society.
Pic. Dave Meehan.

Sarah Mortell, President of the Trinity College Philosophical Society. Pic. Dave Meehan.

Sarah Mortell, President of the Trinity College Philosophical Society. Pic. Dave Meehan.

Studying arts and humanities in university is often portrayed as an option for those with only a vague idea of what they want to do as a career.

The traditional view of arts graduates is that their job prospects are not great, but there is now evidence that their skills are in heavy demand among employers.

In recent days, it was reported that the Royal Bank of Scotland in Britain wants to hire more arts graduates to bring a new dimension to its business after the financial collapse.

Tim Skeet, managing director of RBS Capital, suggested that there were too many "linear thinkers" in the company, rather than "blue-sky creative thinkers".

His support for arts graduates is echoed by Peter Cosgrove, director of the Irish-based recruitment firm CPL.

Mr Cosgrove says graduates with more technical qualifications may not always have the broad range of skills necessary for many modern workplaces.

"Nowadays, a lot of the technical work is done by computers," he says. "I think the UK is slightly ahead of us on this, but increasingly employers are looking for people who can think laterally."

In recent years there has been an emphasis on steering school leavers towards science and technology-related degrees, even though the students may not have any interest in them.

"If I was advising a student, I would tell them to do something that they are really interested in," says Peter Cosgrove.

"When employers are recruiting they like people to be passionate about what they have studied.

"Arts graduates may have greater empathy, and that is crucial in a whole range of jobs.The jobs that require people skills include human resources, marketing, sales and management."

RBS indicated that it wants less focus on "linear thinkers", who follow conventional routes into the business after studying maths or finance-related degrees.

Tim Skeet, managing director of RBS Capital Markets, suggested in an interview that if banks had employed graduates with a less blinkered attitude the economic collapse might not have been as bad.

"We need an input from people who have left-field, blue- sky creative thinking, who can bring the ability to ask the tough questions," he told the London Times.

"If going through this crisis we had a few more people who could have said - look, explain that to me in plain English…. I think we might have avoided some of the problems."

The banking boss, who studied French and German at Cambridge University, said there was not enough diversity among the workforce, with more recruits with qualifications in maths, science and finance.

"Over the past 20 years, the people around me had been incredibly numerical, very intense, linear thinkers - not the skills we need for the sort of banking we are trying to build."

RBS is one of many big employers who now want to recruit staff with a broader range of qualificaions.

Orlaith Tunney, careers adviser at Trinity College, says companies such as McKinsey, KPMG, Smurfit and Yahoo! want graduates from all disciplines Arts and Humanities. Many arts graduates from Trinity also join legal firms.

Ms Tunney says a survey of employers of Trinity College showed the qualities that were considered most important. They include teamwork, oral communication skills, problem solving and adaptability.

"These qualities are all developed through the study of arts and humanities."

Aoibhin De Burca of the Royal Irish Academy says arts graduates do not always have a defined career path.

However, she says their critical thinking and communication skills were in heavy demand. Ms De Burca says Irish arts graduates also benefit from the high rankings of many of their courses in world university rankings.

The QS World University rankings puts Trinity College at 71st in the world. The rankings for some Trinity arts subjects are much higher than that, with English Language and Literature ranked 25th. Trinity is also in the top 50 in the world for Modern Languages, Politics and History.

According to research from the New College of the Humanities, 60pc of the UK leaders in business, politics and other fields have humanities, arts or social science degrees. Science, technology, engineering, and maths account for only 15pc of UK leaders. A report on Arts and Humanities by the Higher Education Authority showed genealogy, literature, theatre, music, art and folklore - all relevant to arts degrees - are key selling points for Irish tourism, which employs over 200,000.

Time to learn critical skills

Sarah Mortell has her work cut out as President of the Philosophical Society (The Phil ) at Trinity College Dublin.

"I became president in March and it is almost like a full-time job," she says.

The Lucan student started out studying Science, but switched to a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics and Economics.

"I believe that studying Arts, Humanities and Social science subjects helps you to develop critical skills."

"There are not that many lectures on my course. So, there is plenty of time for other activities."

"As President of the Phil, we organise debates and we have many well-known speakers.

"Among those on this year's programme are Jonah Hill, Peter Thiel (founder of Paypal) and Commander Hadfield."

Sarah Mortell worked at the recent Web Summit in Dublin, and hopes to find a job in management consultancy.

White board jungle

Many students will be delighted to get the day off next Tuesday as teachers hold a one-day strike over Junior Cycle reforms.Who would say no to a sleep-in on a dark December morning?

Not everyone is happy, however. In a blog post, Craig McHugh, President of the Irish Secondary Students Union, supports the reforms and the move towards self-assessment and less emphasis on exams.

He says: "Students don't need two lumps of stress, one at 14 and 15 and another at 17 and 18. They need education.

"The stress and unnecessary elements that once accompanied our Junior Cert are irrelevant and backward.

He says the new JCSA brings students forward. He describes it as "a stepping stone", which will allow students to leave with skills and abilities to learn and question the world around them.

Irish Independent