Why Humanities Graduates?
Between widespread claims of a “crisis in the Humanities” and enduring caricatures such as the “barista with a B.A.,” many Humanities graduates face a number of challenges transitioning from university to the workforce. With less opportunities for on-the-job training in an increasingly technology-driven economy, the non-vocational nature of Humanities disciplines also means that the market value of new graduates may not be immediately obvious to employers. Due to this disconnect, Humanities graduates often spend the early years after graduation working jobs for which they are overqualified and which undervalue their education, reducing their potential contribution to Ontario’s workforce and to the Canadian economy at large.
With the Linking Skills project, the Experiential Education Unit (EEU), University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) challenges the pervasive narrative that Humanities graduates are “unemployable” and lack the necessary work-ready skills to integrate into the labour market. Rather, we regard the non-vocational approach of a Humanities education as their greatest asset, producing strong transferable skills—commonly referred to as “soft skills,” which include critical thinking, communication, and adaptability—that are highly valued by employers and have practical applications across a variety of industry sectors. Yet Humanities graduates will continue to be mistakenly overlooked by employers unless universities make a more conscious effort to teach students to recognize the transferability of their skills and communicate their value in a language that employers understand. Employers too must reflect on their own perceptions and recruitment practices, integrating mechanisms to access and capitalize upon this highly skilled, flexible labour market.
The EEU recommends experiential learning (EL) as an innovative, multi-faceted solution to this problem. Humanities departments at UTM are committed to expanding their catalogue of EL opportunities to help their students apply the discipline-specific skills gained in the classroom to real-world work environments. Over the past year, UTM has been providing dedicated administrative support to growing a culture of EL in the Humanities. EEU staff work closely with faculty and community partners to facilitate a variety of curricular EL opportunities, including academic internships and community engaged learning.
The Linking Skills project promises to add another robust layer to EL programming in the Humanities by helping faculty to connect curriculum with industry expectations and recruitment practices. It is our intention that Humanities students have a range of in-course opportunities available to them to explore career pathways and gain practical work experience, thereby easing their transition to the workforce after graduation.