Humanities in Australia – Future knowledge, skills and capabilities

Questions relating to the future of Australia’s humanities workforce intersect with a larger debate on the future of work generally. A key topic of discussion in this debate revolves around the skills and capabilities humanities researchers (and graduates more broadly) will require to successfully navigate the labour market of tomorrow. With respect to the humanities research workforce, this encapsulates both those who will build their careers in academia, along with those who will transition beyond the academic sector.

Skills can be broadly defined as ‘the abilities embedded in individuals as they relate to completing tasks in the workforce’.
The capabilities generated through humanities training are the foundation of a competent and agile workforce. These include, for example, the ability to:

  • engage with, analyse and synthesise evidence from an array of different sources;
  • design research projects and plans for locating, retrieving and storing information;
  • present a coherent argument in both written and oral form;
  • work with others by using negotiation and diplomacy, including drawing upon knowledge of foreign languages and cultures;
  • deliver content that is purpose- and audience-appropriate;
  • appreciate multiple points of view; and
  • solve problems by using critical and lateral thinking.

These capabilities also allow humanities graduates and researchers to transition across different professional contexts. By drawing upon wide skill sets, historians work as journalists, political commentators, or researchers for government or NGOs; literature majors consult for professional services firms, or work as subject matter experts within education software companies; philosophers work on questions arising out of growth in the artificial intelligence and health science industries.
Research into the future of work indicates that demand for higher-order cognitive skills that support intellectual agility and professional mobility will continue to increase. These in-demand attributes directly correspond to the skills and capabilities developed through studying the humanities, underscoring the critical role of this training in the future.

Recent studies of higher degree by research (HDR) courses and PhD employment outcomes in Australia and abroad flag the common perception that PhD graduates (whether from STEM or HASS disciplines) are not ‘work ready,’ and that they lack ‘enterprise skills.’ This view, however, does not align with the growing body of research showing that humanities graduates and researchers are equipped with skills that are highly sought-after in an array of different professional contexts, and will continue to be relevant into the future.

The question of how to address the current misalignment between perception and reality in how humanities skills relate to employer requirements across academic and other sectors is therefore fundamental to any effort to move beyond common biases associated with the employability of humanities graduates and researchers.

There is also an urgent need to better understand the knowledge, skills, and capabilities humanities researchers need in order to transition between academia and other sectors with greater ease. While
postgraduate training may have traditionally been a pathway towards academic employment, there is today increasing consensus that most research-trained graduates will work outside academia. How then will
Australia ensure the right balance in PhD training between what is required for developing comprehensive specialist knowledge, and the generalist skills that are a. In the academic workforce? fundamental for transitioning between different professional contexts?

Literature on the future of work makes it clear that new technologies will change what, where and how we do the things that we do. It is therefore critical to understand what future skills and capabilities humanities researchers will require to prosper within this evolving work environment.

The issue of digital literacy is frequently raised across a variety of research and teaching contexts, triggering questions about how technology can (and will) be integrated into teaching practices, scholarly discourses, investigative methods and research dissemination.

An important element of this debate is what humanities disciplines themselves will look like in the future. With the move towards greater interdisciplinarity in research, the scope of humanistic inquiry has changed significantly over the past several decades, with ‘hybrid configurations of discourses that happen around, beneath, below, between the disciplines’ continually opening new areas of study.

This accelerating trend towards greater inter- and trans-disciplinary collaboration across the humanities, arts, social sciences and the hard and natural sciences requires a workforce with capacity to navigate and critically engage with this dynamic research environment.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Future Humanities Workforce – Australian Academy of the Humanities

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