Education Trends & Career Trends: Liberal Arts colleges must be partners in workforce development

3 min read

Edition: September 12th, 2021
Curated by the Knowledge Team of ICS Career GPS

Curiosity, creativity, critical analysis, experimentation and collaboration are much-needed skills. (Image Source:
  • Excerpts from article by Sonia Cardenas, published on

We can use the power of the liberal arts to broaden workforce development. Liberal arts skills are really innovation skills, and must not be overlooked in the latest workforce development and education initiatives.

The current, common narrative used in these initiatives pits liberal arts as an alternative to technology and science. That is simply wrong. The liberal arts are a humanising complement and force multiplier.

Recent global surveys confirm that employers across industries value the meta-skills and broad base of knowledge for which liberal arts graduates are known. Studies also show that liberal arts graduates out-earn their counterparts over time.

Liberal arts colleges can and must be close partners in reimagining workforce development.

Here’s how Liberal Arts stand to benefit workforce development:

1. Provide a direct pipeline to high innovation areas

  • Liberal arts colleges can be a direct pipeline to careers in high-innovation areas.
  • To be sure, specialised technical and professional skills are a clear ramp to jobs in innovation. But it’s liberal arts’ meta-skills that fuel how far the students can go.
  • These meta-skills drive our ability to work flexibly and innovate throughout our careers.
  • Curiosity, creativity, critical analysis, experimentation, collaboration, empathy and communication all drive innovation.

2. Make the workforce more effective

  • Liberal arts graduates can be turbocharged to be even more effective. They must be provided with real-world experiences and in-demand technical, professional and industry-specific skills.
  • In a future marked by automation and inequality, both human-centered skills and digital know-how will be needed.
  • These turbocharged graduates will have a valuable, hybrid set of skills primed for ongoing innovation.
  • Liberal arts colleges have already created a hybrid talent pool with their STEM graduates, who in many cases also studied the arts, humanities and social sciences.
  • These students are curious, and they know how to question and reimagine the world around them.
  • Such students are strong candidates for the graduate programmes and science laboratories that propel research and development.
  • Their broad-based educations give them the creative confidence to think across boundaries and relate to others.

3. Equip talent pool with expansive skills

  • Workforce development is partly about preparing people for particular jobs that are needed here and now. But it’s also about educating people so that they have expansive skill sets and the ability to innovate and adapt to a changing world.
  • Liberal arts is about enabling people to lead imaginatively in their workplaces and communities.
  • By their very nature, liberal arts schools must constantly innovate to deliver on their promise of staying relevant.
  • They can do this by continuing to expand access, from precollege programmes and partnerships with minority-serving community colleges to collaborative ventures with industry.
  • It will better prepare students for the workforce by adding career-ready skills and experiences onto a liberal arts education.

If we are serious about workforce development as an engine of progress, we must not forget that the future of work is the future of society. The liberal arts have never been more relevant or necessary for the future.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article mentioned above are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of ICS Career GPS or its staff.)

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