Look at any list of most in-demand college degrees or those that pay the best after graduation and you'll find a parade of technical subjects such as computer science and engineering. Plus, you can't spend a minute with the business media and not be aware of the fierce war for tech talent current raging.
Meanwhile, these days you're most likely to hear about liberal arts degrees when families anxiously discuss their economic value (or lack thereof) over dinner, or when the governor of a large state insults them.
The split in perceived value between computer science and classics couldn't be clearer. But is the worry that liberal arts degrees prepare students mostly for a career slinging coffee at Starbucks justified?
Absolutely not, according to a Tom Perrault, the Chief People Officer of Rally Health. Not only would parents and students do well to give the liberal arts the respect they deserve, he argued on HBR recently, but it's also essential that businesses -- tech businesses, in particular -- stop undervaluing those who chose literature or anthropology over engineering.
"What can't be replaced in any organization imaginable in the future is precisely what seems overlooked today: liberal arts skills... These skills, not digital or technological ones, will hold the keys to a company's future success," he insists.
Why are the skills nurtured by studying Plato or politics set to grow more valuable over time? Because, Perrault feels, the ability to tell clear stories and design intuitive interfaces for the non-technical is becoming more and more important for tech companies. Liberal arts grads have a suite of skills that are well suited to just these tasks. What are they? Perrault names four.
When it comes to creating tech products, "simplicity is hard," writes Perrault. "Only people with specialized creative skills--honed from years of thinking, reading, writing, and creating--have the talent of making the complex simple and the difficult accessible."
Business leaders increasingly require empathy both to understand the needs and problems of consumers, but also to get the best out of their teams. Studying the humanities boosts empathy, according to science.
Listening "is exactly what liberal arts majors have been prepared to do," claims Perrault, "Knowledge workers who are able to truly hear and understand what is being said--and, equally important, what is not being said--will have a powerful impact on their organizations. By listening deeply, employees build substantive relationships with each other, as well as with customers. In doing so, they can perpetuate a more powerful culture and even increase sales."
Computers can crunch numbers but they can't see the big picture. In a world awash in data, you need humans for that. And it's an area in which liberal arts grads excel.
"The ability to understand the world through different lenses and turn competing or disparate viewpoints into a compelling narrative is an art, not a science. It requires an intuitive understanding of the world that comes from a deep immersion in the liberal arts," Perrault declares.
Are you convinced that the future belongs to liberal arts grads?