The skills learned by studying humanities are vital for a wide range of careers. That was the message from a recent panel discussion involving leading executives in the finance, retail and recruitment sectors.
The Humanities at Work panel comprised Dr Jiaxi Liu, investment analyst at Baillie Gifford; Adam Lisle, head of training and development at Lidl UK; and Dr Micah Coston, senior research associate at the international executive search firm Perrett Laver.
Dr Jiaxi Liu, who studied music and trained as a classical pianist before entering the world of finance, told the audience at St Cross College that studying humanities gave her an advantage in her career. 'The ability to think, form arguments, read and write are skills we have as historians and classicists,' she said. 'You learn interview skills as a linguist which you can use when talking to management, and I meet with CEOs and CFOs all the time.'
She added: 'Anthropologists observe a lot and come to an explanation that others may not necessarily come to. Musicians work with each other all the time, it takes a leader to get a whole group together and playing at the same time, and that kind of self-initiative and independent thought is very much ingrained in humanities.'
Dr Micah Coston has a DPhil in English Literature from Oxford and told the audience that his time in Oxford has been invaluable in his career. 'All the things that develop you as a person, like organisational skills and time management, are so vital to what comes next,' he said. 'Doing a DPhil you have time to explore a subject before you tie it up to a conclusion. When you get into a working context, it becomes apparent that that was really beneficial.'
Adam Lisle said spending a year at Lidl’s German office learning the language has benefited his work at the company. 'Communications is one of our key pillars [at Lidl] and it is fundamental in a company spread across multiple areas and disciplines,' he said. 'Communication between departments and countries helps you to solve problems in a way that is clear and concise. Humanities brings that strength and we are looking for that in the recruitment process.'
He said a humanities degree should not deter an employer from hiring a strong candidate. 'As an employer we are looking across a wide range of degrees, we do not have any barriers in terms of what degrees we are looking for,' he said. 'Overall it is important what you learn from that experience of gaining a degree and how you translate that into the world of work when you enter an organisation.'
Research suggests the world of work will change dramatically in the next 20 years with Artificial Intelligence and robotic process automation changing and automating millions of jobs. But Dr Liu said this trend brings an opportunity for humanities students. 'As a humanities person, you have something that is not currently replaceable and that is creativity,' she said. 'Algorithms can’t capture creativity at this point, so use that to your advantage for the next 20 or 30 years.'