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Skills held by humanities, liberal arts grads are highly sought by companies, can’t be computerized

November 16, 2016

Research shows jobs that can be done by computers are at high risk of disappearing, but jobs that humanities and liberal arts graduates are best suited for—positions requiring great communications skills—will likely be around for the long haul.

Recent studies show that the most job growth is in the areas that require strong social skills, said Robert Matz, senior associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at George Mason University.

“Of course, majors in the humanities and social sciences provide students with these skills,” he said.

Social skills like effective communications and flexibility in the workplace can’t be automated, Matz added.

People with degrees in area studies, like gender studies and Latin American studies, showed the greatest gains in full-time employment and compensation, according to data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers cited in the Wall Street Journal.

It is not surprising that gender studies and area studies majors are also doing especially well, Matz said.

“Part of communication is understanding the diverse experiences of others. In increasingly diverse workplaces, students who have that understanding have an edge,” he said.

“When I talk to students about their experiences, they indicate that gender studies courses helped them to recognize that there were multiple perspectives on every issue, that there is diversity of viewpoint and experience,” said Angela Hattery, director of the Women and Gender Studies Program at George Mason. “Thus, they developed better critical thinking and analytical skills. In short, they were able to demonstrate to employers that they could ‘think outside the box.’”  

Latin American Studies students at Mason have gone on to highly successful careers in government, with international institutions and in the nonprofit world, said Jo-Marie Burt, a professor of politics in the Schar School of Policy and Government at Mason. Many have worked with the Peace Corps in challenging regions like Honduras and El Salvador.

“They are all making a difference while at the same time developing successful and meaningful career paths,” she said. “Latin American Studies allows students to explore the politics, history and culture of this critical region from an interdisciplinary perspective. The in-depth knowledge they gain allows them to graduate with a highly specialized knowledge and skill set that employers find valuable.”

Jo-Marie Burt teaches political science at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, where she has served as director of Latin American Studies between 2011 and 2016 and co-director of the Center for Global Studies (2011-2014). She is also a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), where she conducts research and writes commentaries on human rights and transitional justice issues in the region. She can be reached at jmburt@gmu.edu or 703-993-1413.

Robert Matz is a professor of English and senior associate dean in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at George Mason University. He can be reached at rmatz@gmu.edu.

Angela Hattery, is a sociologist and the director of the Women and Gender Studies Program at George Mason University. Her research focuses on social stratification, gender, family and race. She can be reached at ahattery@gmu.edu or 703-993-2897.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 35,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.