Humanities skills certificate connects dots between classroom and workplace

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Starting in Fall 2024, the Faculty of Humanities' new Skills for Life certificate will help students connect the dots between the classroom and the workplace.

“But what can you do with a philosophy degree?”

“You’re never going to make any money if you study English.”

Those are familiar phrases to anyone who’s ever studied — or wanted to study — humanities.

Evidence to the contrary is out there: Over and over, reports, surveys and studies have shown that employers value the communication, creative and critical thinking skills that are developed when studying languages, the arts, or any of the other disciplines that fall within the breadth of humanities subjects.

And, what’s more, most experts say those skills are going to be essential in a future that will see technical skills increasingly taken over by machines.

Still, the stereotype of the barista with the history BA persists. For McMaster humanities students, though, it may not be around much longer, thanks to a first-of-its kind program that helps students relate the skills they learn in the classroom to the skills they’ll need as they move beyond university.

The Faculty of Humanities has introduced a new concurrent certificate called Skills for Life that is designed to explicitly focus on the foundational skills that are regularly included among employers’ most desired qualities: critical thinking, communication, problem solving, adaptability and intercultural understanding.

Beginning in Fall 2024, all humanities students starting first year in a BA program will be required over the course of their degree to complete the 18-unit certificate, which incorporates courses in those key skills, as well as digital literacy, social responsibility and innovation, career development, and leadership.

“While our students implicitly learn these skills in the course of their undergraduate education in humanities, we wanted to ensure that, by the time they graduate, they’re able to explicitly relate those skills to practical experience,” explains Sean Corner, the faculty’s associate dean of undergraduate studies, who led the design of the certificate.

“We also want students to be able to clearly articulate the value of the skills they have, and how they apply to potential employment opportunities. Essentially, we’re helping them connect the dots.”

Corner points out that the Skills for Life certificate isn’t about vocational training, even though there is a strong career component to its courses, including a specific class in career development.

“Our students are certainly thinking about their futures, even before they become students,” he says. “Sixty-eight per cent of incoming students last year selected ‘Careers’ as one of their reasons for applying to the Faculty of Humanities, and we know that employers are looking for the skills that are developed through a humanities education.”

More broadly, though, the certificate embraces the value of learning for life – upholding the key elements of a liberal arts education, like inquiry, analysis, and curiosity, while also meeting the needs of students entering the job market after their program is finished.

That means giving students the opportunity to practice the skills they learn in real-life settings outside the classroom, as well as exposing them to the many options for using those skills once they graduate.

As part of the certificate, students can choose to complete a part- or full-time internship, or participate in on-campus leadership courses that include mentoring students learning English in McMaster’s MELD diploma program.

Students can also participate in extra-curricular activities, including networking and mentorship opportunities with Humanities alumni, life skills workshops and more extensive career development assistance.

Ultimately, the purpose of the certificate is to ensure humanities students get the best start possible once they’ve completed their degrees and moved on from McMaster.

“This certificate will allow our students to concretely demonstrate and articulate the incredible value they bring to the workforce,” says Corner. “And just as importantly, they’ll have learned those foundational skills that will enable them to lead richer and more balanced lives as thoughtful, empathetic and effective citizens.”

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