Why the tech industry needs the humanities more than ever

Skills like communication, observation, empathy and logic are key to success in the business of tech

In today’s tech-driven age, where we are surrounded by automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) – pupils have often been told that studies in STEM lead to success. Coding, science, maths and engineering are all very important and much-needed disciplines, but we must ensure that humanities disciplines aren’t forced into a back seat as a result.

Comprehension, communication, empathy and observation are just a few of the competencies that humanities students gain. Sometimes referred to as ‘soft skills’, these expertise are consistently overlooked and undervalued. This is especially true in tech. Here’s why we really need the humanities to shine:

● The need for the human touch: automation and natural language processing drive big benefits for organisations and employees, but without a human aspect, the potential of these technologies can’t be fully realised. We need people who can solve technical problems in human ways, with cross-functional critical thinking, emotional intelligence and an analytical bent. AI is great, but it’s limited to decision-making based on past ‘learning’. Someone who is capable of making an informed, intuitive decision will outperform a robot as they draw on their soft skills rather than a database. The importance of this should not be overlooked.

● Communicating and debating the big issues: as AI influences how we work and interact across all spheres, it opens up wider conversations around privacy, ethics and data bias. These conversations won’t die down any time soon, and the tech industry will need people who have a broad enough perspective to intelligently debate these issues – but also the skills to communicate and drive actionable change when needed. I think this issue is summed up nicely by a quote from Yale president Peter Salovey, who recently wrote: “In our complex and interconnected world, we need leaders of imagination, understanding, and emotional intelligence.”
● Evolving job roles: STEM roles and skills are still very much in demand. However, automation has significantly lowered the barrier for entry into coding and other technical jobs. As a result, the recognition that it takes more than a focus on STEM to succeed in today’s tech- and data-intensive workplaces is gaining momentum. It could well turn out that people who don’t have a strictly STEM focus in their background end up with the competitive edge.

An industry imperative

The technology industry needs humanities more than ever. History and literature are where we learn about problems that could occur again and would require fixing, where we learn about issues that impact people beyond our immediate community, and where we gain our understanding of the human condition.

The challenges businesses are trying to solve aren’t one dimensional, and the education pathways that are encouraged for our future workforce shouldn’t be either.

At the moment, if a pupil showed an interest in pursuing a tech career, they might automatically be encouraged to focus on STEM. If a student showed a natural aptitude for these disciplines, then of course that should be encouraged, but there shouldn’t be a narrow focus during formative years when students derive great benefits from studying a broad range of subjects.

Just because a student appears to be a science whizz doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be equally able to debate, as an example, the political factors which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. They would learn a huge amount about society, the complexities of human behaviour and our world in the process. This education is of no less value than teaching children to code, or nurturing their natural talent for electrical engineering, and the technology industry has a responsibility to communicate this to education institutions and the world. Humanities students, we need you!

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