The Importance of Humanities in the Workforce

December 22, 2022

 A college student studying in a library.

The Importance of Humanities in the Workforce

 A college student studying in a library.

Studying the humanities — art, philosophy, religion, science, and law — has long been the process by which people learned to be analytical, to be creative at problem-solving, and to be vitally engaged with the world around them.

Today, some critics say that colleges and universities should teach practical skills that lead to jobs in business, technology, and sales. These critics see degrees in fields such as history, philosophy, languages, and history as a poor return on investment, since they don’t prepare students for the working world.

However, several business and tech industry leaders disagree. They say that industries need employees who can be critical thinkers and creative problem-solvers, who value the arts, and who understand what it means to be human. In our highly technological society, the importance of the humanities is clearer than ever. 

Why Studying the Humanities Is Important

What are the humanities, and why is it important to study these branches of learning? They’re the study of all things human — languages, arts, history, social sciences, and more. Beginning with the ancient Greeks, the humanities have been part of young people’s training and education, essential to becoming an engaged citizen. Over the centuries, philosophers in Rome, during the Middle Ages, and during the Renaissance continued the tradition of teaching the humanities.

In the modern era, education has evolved. Now a great deal of emphasis is placed on technical training and job-specific skills. Political leaders have announced their support for increasing funding for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) training. They have called for universities to focus on students in STEM disciplines and to scale back on, for example, foreign language, art history, and philosophy degrees.

Employers disagree. Their job postings ask for applicants who are analytical, curious, and passionate. They want employees who dive into complex challenges and come up with innovative solutions. When it comes to these and many other qualities, it turns out a degree in the humanities may be just the training that the workplace needs.

Humanities: Skills and Competencies

Whether students study art, history, philosophy, religion, or languages, they’re receiving an education in many competencies. These skills, while not directly correlated to technical training, benefit workers and employers.

Critical Thinking

What does it mean to be a critical thinker? Critical thinkers evaluate information from an array of sources, analyze and synthesize evidence, and make decisions based on well-trained reasoning. Critical thinking isn’t necessarily without bias, because humans are fallible. However, when well trained, critical thinkers strive for accuracy and good judgment. 

Cross-Cultural Literacy

Employees of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds prize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. Companies are responding with DEI initiatives. These initiatives require leaders and managers to “walk the walk” when it comes to cross-cultural literacy. DEI has been shown to increase employee retention and help with attracting new talent to the company. 

Studying the humanities, with their emphasis on language, culture, and the vast tapestry of human social constructs, makes people more open to diverse points of view. This outlook can help promote new ideas and products and help companies expand into new markets. 


A humanities education is designed to teach people to be communicators. From thoughtful speech and writing to simple texts and emails, being able to communicate effectively is crucial to the workplace. Engineers and scientists keep logs. Software developers report on projects to managers. Clear, concise writing and speaking are essential tools for employees and employers alike. 


In most technology jobs, creativity is a necessary skill. Creativity isn’t just about generating new ideas — it requires discipline, research, experience, and insight. Innovation and outside-the-box thinking are both hallmarks of a humanities degree, which teaches people to look at the world in a different way, whether from a cultural perspective across time and space (ancient and modern languages, anthropology) or through art (dance, music, sculpture). 

Making Connections

When students take a technical training course, they study one discipline. When they get a humanities degree, they make connections between many disciplines. A language degree will include history, literature, music, law, and the arts. Law will include history and philosophy. Philosophy will include critical thinking, history, ancient and modern languages, and more. 


It isn’t the role of the humanities to instill ethics in students, but to show how moral principles shape society and culture and guide the actions of individuals and organizations. Ethical behavior is so important that almost every profession includes ethics training. Lawyers, accountants, doctors and nurses, business executives, and hospital industry leaders must all understand the ethics of their particular field. Scientists who conduct research on human and animal subjects must also follow a code of ethics. 


People who study the humanities expand their world by being curious about it. Often people are drawn to a degree in these studies because they want to learn more — about art and art history, about where we come from as humans, about law and justice and social change. Curiosity and a sense of adventure in trying new ideas and experimenting with processes is an invaluable resource for employers.

Anyone can be curious, in any field. The humanities, though, generally prompt students to question their assumptions and look at the world in a different way. 

Careers in Humanities

The road map to a career in humanities can be as individualistic as a fingerprint. People become historians or psychologists or software engineers or business leaders from various upbringings and educational backgrounds. It’s common for people to switch careers, go back to school, and learn new skills. 

Whether people choose a career in the humanities or in a different field, they may bring along their experience as foreign language learners, historians, and artists, to name a few. In this way, they add a valuable perspective and skill set to their new role. 

A background in humanities is beneficial in all disciplines, simply because it teaches competencies that everyone should master as a core part of their education. Some careers are specific to the humanities and require a degree in that discipline. 

Social Sciences

The social sciences encompass political science, anthropology, sociology, and economics, as well as the subdisciplines of each. These disciplines focus on how people behave in society and culture. A degree in the social sciences could be a foundation for a psychologist, an economist, or a social worker, but also for a teacher, a marketing professional, or a business manager. 


Economics is the study of production and distribution of goods as well as the behavior of people as consumers and producers. Economists don’t just research this movement of goods. They also conduct research into human behavior to determine why people act the way they do, sometimes counter to their own interests. Economists often work in academia as teachers and researchers and on staff for companies. 


Historians study the past through documents and other artifacts. They may specialize in a specific era or a specific topic (art history, for example). They conduct research and write articles and books on their findings. 

History is more than just the classification of past information or a recitation of dates and facts. Historians study the context of past events and cultures and use that knowledge to expand humanity’s understanding of its origins. For example, Barbara Tuchman’s book A Distant Mirror compares the upheavals of the 14th century to the 1970s and 1980s. Historians work in academia, in museums, and for research organizations. 


Religion as a field of study examines different religions around the world through the lenses of history, language, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Unlike theology, which specifically is the study of the divine (God), the study of religion focuses on humanity’s cultural experience with religion. It looks at religious activities, thoughts, and beliefs. 

Religion experts may be historians, anthropologists, psychologists, or sociologists. They may conduct research and scientific inquiries and write articles and books on their findings. Religion experts aren’t necessarily religious; religion is a field of research like any other. 


The study of law is one of the cornerstones of the humanities. It incorporates all the skills that a degree in the humanities teaches to students: critical thinking, research, communications, and creativity. Most people who study law get an undergraduate degree in one field, and then get their Doctor of Jurisprudence  in a doctorate program. 

Those who become lawyers advise clients on legal matters and represent them in criminal and civil courts. Lawyers can own their own practices or work for other firms. Companies retain lawyers as in-house counsel. Governments hire lawyers to represent their interests in criminal and civil cases. 

Clinical Ethicists

Clinical ethicists work for hospitals and other healthcare providers. They ensure that medical staff members treat patients and their families fairly and ethically. They also make sure that medical staff members are protected by the same policies and are well trained in ethical considerations. Clinical ethicists combine a STEM education with advanced degree work in law, religion, philosophy, or similar disciplines.

Similar careers include bioethicist and medical ethicist. In these roles, doctors and scientists provide guidance in the moral and ethical considerations in medicine and scientific research. 

The Humanities and STEM

When STEM incorporates the arts, it’s referred to as STEAM. Tech leaders say there’s a need for a humanities background in STEM. Steve Jobs, the visionary leader of Apple, famously said when introducing the iPad 2 in 2011 that “technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that makes our hearts sing.”

Below are some advantages of the arts in STEM.

AI and Machine Learning

When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), experts say it’s necessary to understand how humans think when developing robots who can interact with people. The goal of machine learning is to teach AI to become expert at tasks by using algorithms, or desired patterns. AI is very good at analyzing patterns in a vast amount of data at speeds that humans can’t achieve.

AI can be very powerful. However, it also has biases. For example, Amazon found that its automated hiring tool was bypassing women and minority candidates because of the way the AI tool’s algorithm had been written. Without human judgment, AI can lead to unwanted results just by following the rules.

A diverse team of researchers with various backgrounds can create a well-rounded AI. 

Software Programming

Experience in a creative discipline can be a benefit when learning something as difficult as software programming. Taking a foreign language can help with learning code. Humanities programs require a lot of essay writing, and the process of writing — outline, write, revise — is similar to coding. Finally, coding itself is a creative process that requires analytical and critical thinking skills, which the humanities teach. 


The two languages of engineering are math and science, so it may make sense that an engineering curriculum is entirely technical. However, at many top engineering schools around the world, the humanities have become central to the engineering curriculum. Understanding the human condition is essential to designing the built world around us.

The Humanities and Business

Business doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Businesspeople deal with customers, manage employees, and work closely with colleagues and peers. Having a humanities degree is essential, whether that’s in another language, history, the arts, or in the social sciences. A subset of business is economics, which falls under the humanities umbrella. When companies are entering a foreign market, having a cultural understanding of a new market segment is critical. 

The Humanities and the Sciences

Scientific inquiry is the birthright of all humans. Although the physical sciences sit outside of the realm of the humanities, they’re close cousins. The scientific method uses analysis, reasoned arguments, hypotheses, and testing to make discoveries and advance human knowledge. Scientists haven’t always operated in the public interest, however. This is where the study of the humanities, including history, ethics, and social change, can help scientists maintain perspective. 

Careers That Benefit From the Humanities

Some industries benefit from humanities skills. These professions require the training that a humanities degree provides — critical thinking, curiosity, excellent communication skills, and more.


Journalism is the act of gathering and disseminating news and information via the written word, radio, television, and other media. Journalism and the media are intertwined. The information has to be aired or published for it to be news. It’s often called “the first draft of history,” or “history in a hurry.”

Some definitions:

Many people who go into journalism have a humanities degree, whether in journalism, English, or communications — or an entirely different area of study. They must have excellent written and oral communication skills and several other qualities:

Government and Public Administration

Whether working at the local, state, or federal level, government officials and public administrators provide services to their communities and constituents. They conduct the business of the government departments and must act according to laws and regulations. Government officials consist of the following:

A humanities background can be an asset for a government official or public administrator. For example:

Human Resources

Human resources (HR) departments manage an organization’s employees, providing a work environment that meets a company’s goals and supports workers. Whether HR professionals get a degree in business with a focus on HR or a different degree entirely, they benefit from learning humanities skills. For example: 

The Humanities: Gateway to a Rewarding Career

Studying the humanities has long been a foundation for a satisfying, well-rounded life and a rewarding career. Students become adept at applying critical thinking and creativity to problem-solving, humanities skills that’ll be useful inside and outside the workplace. If you want to become a lifelong learner, explore Athens State University’s online humanities and social sciences programs. Take the first step on a journey that can open doors to exciting new opportunities in work and life. 


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