The Liberal Arts and Business

Do the liberal arts matter to business? In Canada and the US there has been a long debate about the virtues of a broad education versus a practical one. The debate is fuelled not just by reason, but by powerful emotional factors. Traditionally, vocational training was for the lower classes while more academic subjects such as the liberal arts were the preserve of the upper class. Even today an argument in favor of the liberal arts is flavored with a sense of elitism. The other emotional driver is the sense that the world has become too dominated by business, and that this domination has led education to concentrate on training people to be good employees, shutting out appreciation of the more important aspects of being human.

By David Creelman

January 21, 2016

But this divide is not necessarily an unbridgeable chasm. Advocates for the liberal arts do not deny the need for practical training, and business – at least to some extent – recognizes the value of the liberal arts.

Arie de Geus spent his career at Royal Dutch/Shell and in his book The Living Company he mentions a book he read forty years ago by German philosopher and psychologist William Stern. De Geus says, “I cannot point to any specific decision that emerged from it, but it colored every decision I took and every move I made.”

Advocates of the liberal arts know in their hearts that their education has made a huge difference to how they think and what they see.

Seeking Out Liberal Arts Graduates

If businesses value the liberal arts you would expect companies to seek out graduates from these disciplines. University placement officers, who are responsible for helping students find jobs, believe that liberal arts students do have skills that businesses need.

Dawn Legault, a placement officer at Carleton University in Ottawa says, “Liberal arts graduates have valuable skills like research, writing, verbal communication, and critical thinking. Businesses seek graduates with these skills irrespective of their degree."

Paul Smith, a placement officer at Queens University in Kingston echoes these ideas saying, “The Conference Board of Canada created an essential skills profile for new graduates and these mirror very closely the skills someone learns in the liberal arts.”

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