Why an arts degree won’t cut you off from a big business job in South Africa

There is a perception that an arts or Bachelor of Arts degree is a ‘stop gap’ for students, and carries limited hiring opportunities – but this has been widely debunked in the last four years, according to UCT Graduate School of Business’ (GSB) Elaine Rumboll.

Rumboll is the founder and convener of the Business Acumen for Artists (BAA) course at the UCT GSB.

The only short course of its kind in South Africa, the BAA is aimed specifically at creative professionals, teaching essential business skills and helping them create sustainable businesses around their creative talent.

Speaking to BusinessTech, Rumboll suggested that the biggest issues South African students with BA and arts degrees face is that their courses fail to teach the commercial aspect of what they are doing.

“It is a systemic problem, not just in South Africa but worldwide,” she said.

“It is really important to change this. Just think what success might be achieved if our creative professionals were better equipped to build sustainable businesses and industries around their art.”

Why things are changing

Citing author George Monbiot, Rumboll said that South African businesses were increasingly looking towards the creative field for new hires and in the entrepreneurial space.

“In the future, if you want a job you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical and socially skilled.”

She also highlighted TV series such as Game of Thrones, which helped Sky UK reap record-breaking profits in 2016. She noted that creative industries were becoming increasingly good for business.

“There is a prevailing mindset that distinguishes between great art and commercial endeavours.”

“But the success of shows like Game of Thrones is helping to shift that,” said Rumboll, who says she was inspired to create the BAA course to challenge the myth of the struggling artist.

“Making money doesn’t make you a bad artist,” she said.

New workplace skills

A degree in the arts provides two key skills essential for the workplace – communication and critical thinking, Rumboll said.

She highlighted a recent survey from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which blows a hole in some of the thinking that there was only a correlation between jobs and the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

After surveying college students and employers, the survey determined the most important learning outcomes based on employer priorities. These included:

  • Problem solving and teamwork skills in diverse settings.
  • Advanced oral and written communication skills.
  • Analytic reasoning and critical thinking skills.
  • Information literacy, innovation, and creativity.
  • Quantitative reasoning and complex problem solving capabilities.
  • A meaningful understanding of cultures and societies outside the United States.
  • A broad understanding of the liberal arts.

“Another unexpected benefit of an arts degree is the preparation it provides for careers that don’t yet exist.”

“New careers are constantly being created because of the internet. For example, ten years ago, the position of social media manager didn’t exist, nor was there any training for it. An Arts degree provides the basic skills for pursuing a variety of career options.”


Read: University fees in 2017: how much it costs to study in South Africa

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Why an arts degree won’t cut you off from a big business job in South Africa