By Associate Professor Nathan Wise, Public and Applied History, University of New England (UNE).
As university study has steadily become more accessible to Australians, the requirement for courses to emphasise the specific ‘workplace skills’ they impart and ‘employability’ aspects has also increased.
My particular views on the issue of employability stem from the career uncertainties I had during my undergraduate studies. Pressured by the belief that I ‘had to have a job in mind’, I spent several years studying a double degree in history (for fun) and engineering (for a job), before building the courage to drop my engineering studies and pursue my passion for history, wherever it would take me. In my teaching today I try to both reassure students about the value of history, while building courage among my students to pursue their passions. For example, within my foundation unit, ‘HINQ100: What is History?’, I begin my first seminar by discussing the value of history in employability terms. I note the rapidly growing ‘Arts and Recreational Services’ industry, highlight the work-relevant skills historians develop, and discuss formidable history graduates from the world of politics, business, and entertainment. Part of the reason for this early emphasis is to dissuade any fears and dispel the old myths that history graduates are unemployable (a fear once held by myself as a young undergraduate).
There is ample evidence that work-integrated learning supports the employability of students. But it would be remiss to overlook the value gained through the self-directed learning and community connections that history degrees foster, particularly in postgraduate study. This style of learning builds student agency, independence and a critical approach to the future, developing empowered students who are best prepared to make informed decisions about their lives.
While certainly of relevance for their employment prospects, these skills developed through the study of history will serve students well in their futures regardless of their chosen direction.