Skills, career opportunities and employment related to study of the arts and humanities
According to the latest UK Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Survey over 76% per cent of Arts and Humanities graduates were in employment or combining work and study within six months of completing their degree.
As well as the specific subject knowledge gained from studying for an OU degree, you'll develop many transferable and work-related skills that are highly valued by employers and which will increase your employability.
For Arts and Humanities students the employability skills you will develop include the ability to:
To see specific learning outcomes related to degrees in this area visit Study at the OU.
To check which skills valued by employers can be developed from studying a particular subject, look at the Student Employability Profiles on the Higher Education Academy website. You will also find information about employability skills developed through study of specific degree subjects on the Options with your subject pages on Prospects website.
The OU Careers Advisory Service defines employability as "A set of capabilities and achievements that support students in developing their careers, raising their aspirations and enhancing their contribution to society".
Whatever your motivations for study, your goals and career aspirations, you are entitled to supported personal development planning either as an intrinsic part of your programme of study or through signposted optional activities. You can view the full Student Employability Policy Statement on our website.
As you progress in your studies, it is beneficial to think about the transferable skills you are developing and how these will be useful in your career and beyond. In the following podcast you will hear the Chief Executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters discuss the skills and attributes that employers value in Arts and Humanities graduates.
Carl: Hello, I’m Carl Gilleard and I’m the Chief Executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, AGR and my job brings me into contact with a lot of large employers who recruit graduates on a yearly basis. So I’m pretty much in touch with what’s going on in the graduate market.
Alison: What’s the job market like for graduates?
Carl: Graduate job opportunities depend very much on the state of the economy and as we all know, the economy, goes up and it goes down. But one thing I would like to just point out is that a degree is for life, so taking a short term view is understandable, but really if you’re planning a career you need to take a longer term view. And the truth is, that having a degree will stand you in very good stead for future job prospects.
Alison: We often hear about the need for more degrees in science, mathematics, engineering. What are things like for Arts & Humanities graduates?
Carl: In the past I think that we probably have had too few students signing up for science and technology degrees and there's obviously a growing demand for graduates in those disciplines. But, three-quarters of all the vacancies that AGR members offer don't specify a particular degree discipline. So I wouldn't be put off doing an Arts or Humanities degree at all, but do bear in mind that when you come into the job market, employers will expect you to show the added value that you've gained from taking the particular degree that you chose to do.
Alison: So what would be your tips to students, Arts & Humanities students from the Open University in thinking about how they promote themselves – what transferable skills do you think they have that perhaps they don't actually recognise?
Carl: For me, transferable skills are the key and if you've done an Arts or Humanities degree, particularly with the Open University, you're going to develop a whole range of skills that might not at first seem that obvious. So let's just start with time management. You may well be working or you'll have other responsibilities as well as studying, so how you actually find the time, how you meet your deadlines, what are your priorities....all of these things are key in virtually any professional job, so if you've gained those skills during your studies, it's important to be able to demonstrate or articulate them when you're applying for a job. But there are other, more specific things which employers tell me Arts & Humanities graduates pick up and one that comes very high on the list is critical thinking. I can't think of very few jobs in the modern world of work where not being able to think critically is unimportant, so emphasise those kind of skills that you've gained as well as the knowledge and the understanding of the specific subject and you won't go far wrong.
Alison: Do you think it's important for Arts & Humanities students to be looking to add to those skills outside of their studies?
Carl: I always encourage students – whether they are full time students or part time students to get a rounded education and a rounded life experience.
There are many jobs where having a rounded life experience is really important. First of all volunteering .... there are many forms of volunteering and you develop a whole range of skills through working with others from team working or maybe being a team leader, through being able to communicate with a host of people and just from understanding different people from different cultures and backgrounds with different needs is important whether you’re working in IT, or the legal sector or a bank. More specifically we’ve seen a growth in internships and work placements in recent times. So if you do have a specific type of career in mind, try to find a work placement that gives you an insight in to the work of that career will stand you in very good stead again.
Alison: You talk about internships, placements and so on, what are the professions or the job areas that Arts & Humanities graduates might think about?
Carl: The truth is that I’ve met Arts & Humanities graduates in a huge range of jobs. I think the important thing is to value what it is that you are studying and not to feel that in any way what you’ve done restricts your career. Where you start out in your career is very very rarely where you end up.
Alison: If students are interested in a particular area of work, how can they find out more about it?
Carl: First of all I think that if you want to know something about a career, use a careers service and I happen to know that at the OU they have a careers service, and it's a very professional service and they're there to give you whatever assistance you need. But you can also talk to businesses; there are events you can turn up at, recruitment fairs, careers events. But also, I think it's worth mentioning now the advent of social media and there are growing numbers of professional Linked In communities, and we're noticing that the sharp graduate or student is actually linking in to employers through that network. So there's a whole range of things to do. Don't leave that process until you've graduated – something you should start at least show an initial interest in right from the start of your degree programme.
In the UK many graduates enter employment where a degree in any subject would be acceptable. In this instance what they offer the employer is evidence of the range of competencies which have been developed through their academic study, rather than the specific subject content of their degree. This page will focus on careers directly related to arts and humanities, however, if you want to explore all of the choices open to you, also refer to the Further Resources section.
Given the current economic climate and the increased competition for graduate positions, it is important to consider a range of occupational areas. Bear in mind that many careers require further study, training and/or work experience beyond your degree.
We advise you to research your career choices thoroughly and as early as possible, particularly in relation to experience required, differences that relate to where you live, or where choice of courses may affect future opportunities.
Studying Arts and Humanities provides graduates with an adaptable set of skills that can give entry to a vast range of occupations leading in many career directions. Employers in all fields value applicants who can deal competently with large amounts of complex information and turn it to good use. In addition, problem solving and effective communication and presentation of ideas and arguments are skills that can be used in a variety of functions from implementing government policy and advising ministers, to being involved in the promotion and sales of products.
The current economic downturn and government spending restrictions may result in a reduction of opportunities for employment in the public sector at both national and local level. This also applies to arts organisations in the private and charitable sectors that rely on public funding.
Depending on the degree you choose, openings can be found in
Professions such as accounting and IT are often open to graduates from all disciplines.
The creative industries sector in the UK offers employment opportunities for Arts and Humanities graduates who can particularly utilise their creative problem-solving abilities and expertise in connecting different ideas and concepts. It is crucial to gain as much relevant experience as you can in order to develop contacts and gain entry into this field.
You can search for global opportunities in the arts and creative industries, including funding, jobs, apprenticeships, internships, training, events and competitions on the Eye the Prize website.
Use Prospects website to explore career options related to arts and humanities. Click on your subject to see examples of job roles and get information for further research. See also the Job Sectors information on Prospects website and AGCAS Industry Insights (under the AGCAS tab on our publications page) on this website for employment sectors such as Advertising, Marketing and PR; Media; Creative Arts and Publishing, which are often popular with arts and humanities students.
OU students interested in museum careers can access some industry-specific information on our Careers Workspace (password-protected).
To find out about ways of gaining experience through volunteering see our voluntary work pages. You can also make use of the searchable databases on the following web sites:
Many Arts and Humanities students undertake further study on completion of their first degree and/or after gaining relevant work experience. Reasons for doing so include wanting to explore an aspect of their studies in more depth, to further or change their career, because a specific postgraduate qualification is an entry requirement for their career of choice or would be an advantage if entry is competitive.
Generally postgraduate study in the Arts and Humanities can open up opportunities to work in higher education and in areas such as teaching, arts and cultural administration and management, public administration, writing and journalism, librarianship, the media and advertising.
There are a range of Arts and Humanities related OU postgraduate study options, both taught and research awards, in subjects such as Humanities, English, Philosophy, History, Music and Art History.
It is important to research further study options comprehensively by exploring the range of postgraduate courses and research opportunities on offer, and funding possibilities, to ensure you make the correct choice, for the right reasons and importantly that you can afford it, as funding for postgraduate study is very different to the undergraduate system.
Rigorous academic standards ensure that OU qualifications are recognised and valued by professional organisations and employers.
As an OU student, you can access the Employer Showcase to find out about some of the employers who are keen to recruit OU graduates.
Many graduate employers do not request a specific degree subject so there is a wide range of potential employers for you to consider. Some employers relevant to OU Arts and Humanities students on the Employer Showcase are:
Having relevant experience can be vital in gaining a competitive edge in the graduate employment market. Many of the employers featured on the Employer Showcase also offer the chance to gain experience through internships and other forms of structured work experience.
The Corporate Human Resources Supervisor of Enterprise admired the persistence and determination of OU students as they pursue a course of study while dealing with all the other commitments and responsibilities they have in their lives. He said
The single most important thing that I’d like to say to all OU graduates is that there are companies out there that want your talent, your experience and your knowledge. I can probably guarantee that you will fit our criteria in many ways, and you could have a successful career in our business.
The UK Graduate Recruitment Co-ordinator of CGI said of OU students
They have got that unique skill set or background that perhaps our standard graduates don't have, they have thought about their career and how they're going to fit that in with the rest of their life as well. That's a very potent blend and already gives them a competitive advantage.
If you are a student you might want to see further advice from major employers on applications, the skills they require and the value of OU study. Go to our What employers say pages.
As an OU student you can also register for our online vacancy service and receive email notification about job opportunities.
There are a wealth of resources on the OU careers website. You might want to watch the Guide to the careers site to give you an overview of what it has to offer.
Use the other sections of this web site to
Don’t forget to check the careers home page regularly for news of events, forums, webinars, careers fairs and short courses. If you are an OU student you can participate in and read entries on our online forums and webinars.
If you are a mature student you may find our tips for mature graduates page useful to help you tackle the graduate employment market.
You may also find it useful to read the publications produced by the OU Careers Advisory Service and AGCAS, available to download from this site, giving further in depth advice and information to help you plan your next steps.
For some graduates, traditional forms of full-time employment are unattractive and increasing numbers of the workforce are turning to alternative ways of working that better fit their work and life values. Find out more about alternative work styles in the Exploring your career options section of this website.
If you are studying with the OU (or finished your studies within the last three years) you are entitled to a careers consultation with a careers adviser. This is designed to help you through the planning process and identify an action plan for your future. (If you are not studying with the OU or last studied with the OU more than three years ago, you should go to the Contact page of this website for other sources of careers advice.)
To find out details of professional associations relevant to this subject area, go to the Total Professions website.
To see the experiences of other OU students visit 'Student stories'.
All UK graduates are invited to complete the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education Survey six months after they graduate. Of the OU Arts & Humanities graduates who responded to the latest survey:
Over 39% of Humanities graduates were doing further study (whether working or not).
Those who changed employer and whose qualification was a formal requirement or an advantage for their new role, gained employment in schools, nurseries and local councils.