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Getting to Work: Career Skills Development for Social Sciences and Humanities Graduates

Four college students holding notebooks

The “barista with a BA” stereotype dominates popular discussion about graduates of social sciences and humanities post-secondary programs. While it is true that most graduates of these programs eventually establish rewarding careers, the initial transition from post-secondary education to work is not always easy. In a recent research report, The Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education examined how to improve the transition to employment for these graduates.

Report Highlights

  • Most social sciences and humanities graduates go on to have rewarding careers, but face challenges in the initial transition to employment.
  • In the short term, social sciences and humanities degree holders struggle to find work that demands the skills developed during their program, such as critical thinking, written and oral communication, and creativity.
  • Some PSE institutions are responding to the challenge by focusing more on career preparation in social sciences and humanities undergraduate programs

In the years immediately following graduation, SSH undergraduate degree holders earn less, are less likely to be employed in a job directly related to their degree, and are more likely to be overqualified for their current position compared with undergraduate degree holders as a whole. Three years after graduation, SSH graduates are somewhat more likely than university graduates as a whole to be employed in part-time work. Meanwhile, only 74 per cent of humanities graduates found full-time work three years after graduation compared to 84 per cent of graduates across all fields of study.

However, the employment outcomes of SSH graduates improve over time. While SSH graduates earn less than graduates with degrees in computer science, math, engineering, and business, their earnings were more stable, growing at smaller but more consistent rates, eventually narrowing the earnings gap with their STEM counterparts. Most SSH degree holders also report being generally satisfied with both their career and program of study. Furthermore, while the career outcomes of SSH graduates lag those of STEM graduates, they earn more than individuals with a college diploma and have more stable careers.

Lack of work experience, limited awareness of career paths, and employer misperceptions about the skills of SSH graduates are making it difficult for SSH graduates to make efficient transitions to the workforce. The report urges the PSE and skills sectors to direct more resources towards addressing the career transition challenges facing SSH graduates.

Recommendations to Improve the PSE-to-Career Transition

Governments, post-secondary institutions, faculty, career services staff, employers, and students can support initiatives that help SSH students explore career paths, navigate the labour market, and apply their skills. The report provides eight recommendations to help ease career transitions of SSH degree holders:

  • Collect and distribute information on the career pathways and transitions of SSH graduates.
  • Communicate to students the skills developed in SSH programs.
  • Encourage students to think about career paths and skills development at the beginning of their degree program.
  • Increase opportunities for participation in experiential learning.
  • Offer career development programs tailored to SSH students.
  • Strengthen links between SSH students and alumni.
  • Increase employer awareness of the valuable skills taught in SSH programs.
  • Evaluate and share information on career development initiatives.

Full Report

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