Creative and arts graduates have the soft skills needed to make them ‘work ready’

Subjects like English and drama produce well-rounded candidates that have academic, practical skills combined with real-world knowledge

Mark Harman
Wednesday 22 June 2016 13:26
Good communication, confidence, and adaptability to underpin academic or vocational qualifications are the soft skills employers are looking for
Good communication, confidence, and adaptability to underpin academic or vocational qualifications are the soft skills employers are looking for

More than ever, employers are looking for candidates who are ‘work ready’ and poised to leap into a business. From experience, the most successful graduates at finding employment are those who possess ‘soft skills’ such as good communication, confidence, and adaptability to underpin academic or vocational qualifications.

Often, those from arts disciplines have these skills in abundance as the nature of their degree balances their studies with extra-curricular activities that shape these all-important attributes. As such, arts graduates must use these skills to give them an edge over others when applying for jobs.

This growing desire for candidates that have exercised their social and communication skills would suggest the wage levels highlighted in the report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies can change. We’re also seeing universities and academics appearing to agree. For example, there has recently been an increase in the number of liberal arts degrees including those at well-respected universities such as Keele and Warwick.

Reed Graduates regularly runs ‘blind’ assessment centres where candidates’ qualifications are not disclosed to the employer until after the interview, meaning candidates are judged purely on their performance in the tasks set throughout the assessment. Employers often select people they wouldn’t have even considered in a traditional recruitment process due to their academic background. Using this format, it is often found that those with well-developed people and communication skills stand an excellent chance of success.

This highlights two key points: firstly, it demonstrates just how important soft skills are when it comes to employability. Secondly, it highlights the fact there is still a stigma attached to some degree subjects which is causing some employers to overlook great candidates. To overcome this, we must educate prospective employers as well as graduate job seekers.

For current students, graduates, or anyone relatively new to the jobs market from any background, arts or sciences, working on these core skills is recommended:

1) Adaptability

The most successful businesses are ones that can respond quickly to changes in the marketplace so they need flexible employees who can see this through. Simply starting university, particularly in a different city or country, demonstrates capability to adapt to new situations.

2) Assertiveness

Students face many situations that require them to be assertive: running for the student council, joining the debating society, or meeting a range of personalities across university all cultivate this skill. Employees who demonstrate confidence in their beliefs are valuable to any organisation.

3) Tenacity

Tenacious employees can be relied upon to get the job done, fast. Working on personal goals such as leading a sports team to victory, starting a student radio station, or persevering with a difficult course project all demonstrate this sought-after trait.

4) Commercial acumen

The leap from classroom to boardroom is a significant one, which leaves some graduates with excellent academic qualifications but a limited understanding of how business work. Internships and work experience can make a real difference by giving graduates an appreciation of the corporate mindset and the ability to conduct themselves in a more professional manner.

Currently, there is a ‘candidate rich’ arts jobs market for graduates, meaning competition is high and starting salaries are comparatively lower than the STEM graduate market where skilled applicants are in short supply. But graduates can set themselves apart by getting the soft skills to show they are ‘work ready’, and arts students consistently display these skills.

The trick is to reference them in CVs and even through creative means, such as film or social media, rather than just email. The onus is now not just on academic achievement, but instead becoming and showing how well-rounded an individual is and how they will integrate with the company culture. After all, today’s graduates have a great deal to offer companies; it’s more than just a piece of paper, and as more employers look for these skills, the wage levels for people with them will rise.

Mark Harman is business manager at Reed Graduates

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