Humanities and Social Sciences Can Equip Youth for Future Work

In-demand skills in Canada include leadership, cultural competence, resiliency, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication.

Universities, historically, were created to satisfy a thirst for knowledge with the belief that society would benefit from scholarly expertise generated from these institutions. Studying at university encourages creative and independent thought and exposes students to a deeper understanding of the complexities and variance of the human experience. As time passed, programs with career outcomes became increasingly favoured over those without. Degrees in Engineering, Nursing, or Business are more sought after than those in Humanities or Social Sciences. Sandra Lapointe, Professor of Philosophy at McMaster University would like to see this shift. Her essay in The Conversation, argues that degrees in Humanities and Social Sciences will best prepare students for future employment. With a few tweaks to how these degrees are operated, students will be better equipped for their future of work and employers will reap the benefits.

Tweaking the Humanities and Social Science University Experience

This upcoming generation of students, Gen Z, “face complex global challenges like climate change, as well as ethical, social, and cultural implications of emerging new technologies like artificial intelligence”, says Lapointe. The complexity of skills and capabilities to address them will require “foundational skills associated with innovation and adaptability, including critical thinking, problem solving, analytical skills and creativity.” Employers often find that entry-level new hires lack these skills. The Conference Board of Canada argues that universities are not doing enough to prepare students for work, arguing “that post-secondary education (PSE) systems need to address the barriers to social and emotional skills (SES) training and development, especially for vulnerable groups, and provide accessible, inclusive pathways for lifelong SES learning.”

Actionable Ways to Improve University Humanities and Social Science Experiences

The Public Policy Forum found “40% percent of social sciences and humanities undergraduates return to school within a year of graduating, 15% of them enrolling in community college.” Universities can address this gap between classroom and the work environment through internships and work-integrated learning, Lapointe states. Partnerships between campuses and local municipal governments, through city labs and city studios, can go a long way into helping youth gain the SES skills needed to become effective leaders. The Public Policy Forum report further recommends entrepreneurial incubators, cooperative education, internships, field placements, or study abroad programs to help students bridge the gap to the world of work.

Employers Can Benefit from Contributing to Humanities and Social Science Outcomes

While employers are concerned about a lack of foundation or essential skills such as interpersonal and communication skills and skills that support innovation and adaptability, such as “social and emotional intelligence, active listening, intercultural communication and ethical reasoning” they under-invest in training compared to their international counterparts. Additionally, many employers lack consensus on which skills should be prioritized in university education, how to best develop them, or the best way to measure them. Creating a framework for hiring practices, and investing in training to support employees will be mutually reinforcing.

Matching Student Values with Organizational Needs

The right connection is increasingly important in making hiring decisions. Generation Zs want to be aligned with the values of the organization they work for. “Alignment between students’ interests and aptitudes, and organisational needs, need to be embedded in the recruitment or supervision processes,” according to this Future Skills report. Embedding student interests and aptitudes in the recruitment and supervision processes will ensure a better fit for both the student and the organization to help respond to the demand for social and emotional skills and the changing nature of work.

As Canada grapples with the high job vacancies, new pathways will need to be generated to fill the demand of the workforce, onboard youth to the workforce, and strengthen the institutional programs that ignite the SES skills needed for the leaders of tomorrow.