Over coffee with a friend he asked me what university degree I had. I dismissively said, “Oh, just an Arts degree” as I waved it away. I immediately felt guilty. It’s been 9 years since I graduated from my undergraduate degree in Arts and Contemporary Studies at Ryerson University and I wouldn’t have changed that education for anything in the world.
Before heading to Ryerson I wasn’t even sure I wanted to continue my education. I got mediocre (at best) grades in high school and thought that was a reflection of my intellect. It turns out that all of my exasperated teachers and parents were right – I just needed to apply myself.
In my first semester when everyone else I knew was struggling to not party themselves out of their degree, I was getting my first round of straight As. I learned that school could be fun and interesting and applying yourself and using your brain could amount to awesome dialogue and good grades. I gained self confidence and a curiosity that stays with me today.
The trajectory of my life was forever altered by those 4 years.
Now working in Talent, I am saddened by the devaluing of the Arts degree. I happened to graduate with fantastic contacts into a very up economy. A big business was willing to take a risk on me, and thank goodness they did. Grads today are not so lucky. Young people graduate from their hard earned Arts degrees and work in bars or restaurants while they look for real work. Or they have to go back to school to upgrade their skills, which costs even more money. In some cases, like with very technical skills, this makes sense.
Why not look at the Arts degree as the place where these students learned how to think, manage their own time, debate, find an idea and defend it, work in teams, solve problems and be accountable to themselves. These are all skills that can be applied in so many roles in so many organizations, and they’re nearly impossible to teach. By being in your company, young professionals can learn the ins and outs of your industry and how the work gets done. They learn the acronyms and models you use by being there and asking questions; by being mentored.
Let’s reconsider this trend of thinking people with Arts degrees need more education. Let’s teach them how to talk about their skills in a way that is compelling for an organization so they can get that job. When we can, let’s invite them into our companies and teach them what they need to know about the technical, and praise them for what they already know about themselves and their values. Remember: everyone starts somewhere.