By Andrea Septién Uribe
Ever since I entered university, the recurring joke of my life has been that there is no way I’ll ever get a job. I’m an arts kid, so that means that instead of choosing between the thousands of job prospects that are readily available to my friends in commerce degrees, the jobs I’ll choose between are the one at McDonald’s and the one at Hungry Jacks.
I bet I’m not the first arts student to imagine themselves in a service job post-graduation. Over the past years, the Australian government has put heavy pressure on students to study STEM and finance related degrees, even going so far as to cut funding for arts education. There’s this prevailing idea that arts jobs aren’t real jobs. They’re just hobbies, so our time in higher education should be focused on STEM instead of ‘useless’ humanities degrees that’ll only mock us as we learn how to be McDonald’s best junior fry cook. If there are plenty of ways to learn about the arts, from YouTube videos to free online courses, what’s the point of actually paying to study this?
I used to ask myself the same thing. Out of all the high school graduates in the entire world, I’m one of just 34% of them who have been able to access and complete a tertiary education program. If that’s the case, shouldn’t I use this opportunity to study something that will get me a good job? Shouldn’t I take this opportunity my parents have worked so hard to give me and do something useful with it?
This self-imposed guilt made me reconsider my choices in study. I even half considered switching to a commerce degree, because if it meant I had to slog through calculus again, at least I’d be doing it knowing that society would trust me to get employed after graduation. Or at least have an impressive LinkedIn profile. But then I remembered that when I told my parents, who both studied economics of all things, that I didn’t want to take any kind of math or science subject again, they fully supported me. Why? Because they knew that there are opportunities in the arts, even for my generation.
People with arts degrees go into a variety of fields, such as psychology, journalism, education, public service, and even politics, to name a few. Others decide to take the route of self-employment and create their own businesses. In fact, in a study from Small Business Economics, researchers found that arts graduates are more entrepreneurial than those who studied STEM subjects! I’ve had plenty of people tell
me that the only work available to my generation are for STEM and commerce students. But looking at our actual society, it seems like these people have forgotten about entire industries that rely on arts kids. More than that, sectors that people wouldn’t expect to be filled with arts graduates, such as the Australian parliament, are actually spearheaded by arts graduates!
Even when looking at the nitty gritty, arts degrees continue to hold essential skills for Gen Z. These days, most jobs actually require an undergraduate degree just to get hired, so if we do decide to learn these skills outside of university, we may actually lose out on job opportunities. Arts degrees teach us an array of soft skills that employers value, such as the ability to communicate effectively. A lot of arts degrees
teach these skills that STEM and finance degrees tend to gloss over, and that can actually make arts graduates attractive to potential employers.
So, despite the attempts to push young people towards STEM degrees, arts degrees have remained popular. On top of that, even after budget cuts, there was an uptick in enrolment for arts degrees! There’s something about the arts that prevails in spite of societal pressure to dismiss it. There are many people in professional workspaces who have been able to get fulfilling jobs after completing an arts degree, even using their new platform to reassure and encourage those who still want to study the arts.
The broad range of skills and adaptability given to arts students is an advantage not many recognize, and even if arts students may be unsure of what they want to pursue post-graduation, their experience in an arts degree opens them up to a wide array of fields that they may not have previously considered specializing in. These degrees can even set people up for more STEM-like careers that actively search for recruits who have training in the soft skills arts degrees actively teach.
So, when people tell me I’ll be unemployed, I don’t believe them anymore. Because honestly, with the vast number of opportunities and jobs that are out there, I’m pretty confident in the fact that I’m not wasting my opportunities in tertiary education. That’s not to say that my professional life will be easy, but hey, if even my math-loving parents can trust in the viability of arts degrees, I think I can too.
Andrea Septien is a Masters student at the University of Melbourne and the current co-editor of the MZ blog. She is also a writer, editor, podcaster, and certified cat lady.