Rebecca Lewis Smith - Employers should not give up on the Arts

PUBLISHED: 16:38 08 February 2012 | UPDATED: 11:24 09 February 2012

Rebecca Lewis Smith, managing director of the Fountain Partnership

Rebecca Lewis Smith, managing director of the Fountain Partnership


The university application figures released last week showed not only a decline in applications overall, but also that there are far fewer would-be students applying for arts, humanities and social sciences degrees. With the rise in tuition fees, it's completely understandable that young people might see a more direct route to employment through vocationally targeted courses.

However, as an employer and an arts graduate, I can’t help but lament this situation.

I run Fountain Partnership, a growing internet marketing company based here in Norfolk. As we steadily create more jobs within our company, I find myself asking what exactly it is that I look for in a graduate seeking to work with us – and time and again, I come back to qualities nurtured by the arts and humanities.

I studied drama at the UEA, and am unlikely to have got to where I am today without the skills, confidence and experience I gained on that course. My co-founder at Fountain, Marcus Hemsley, considered studying business, but decided to follow his passion for philosophy when he went to university.

Between a drama graduate and a philosopher, you wouldn’t necessarily expect enterprise and job creation – and yet here we are, running a successful and growing company.

So what it is about arts, humanities and social science degrees that create the type of graduates that are interesting to employers? One of the key aspects is to do with a passion for learning. If you have spent three years immersed in American Studies, English Lit or History, you’re likely to have been following a passion.

When Marcus chose philosophy or I chose drama, it wasn’t about saying ‘I don’t want a career from this’ – it was about taking higher education as just that; a higher level of investigation, critical thinking and learning, rather than a direct path to a job.

Any new team member in our business needs to be someone who is ‘lit up’ by learning – an absolutely crucial element of our fast-paced industry.

This might include learning core principals of business, but it will also be about finding out about our clients, researching and writing about their industries and helping us to gain an understanding of the target audiences we are reaching out to.

We also want someone who enjoys the challenge of creative problem solving. We don’t need someone to simply apply a theory to our business – we need people who will engage with the problem at hand, investigate different ways of solving it and, where necessary, push boundaries in order to find a resolution.

Perhaps it is predictable for a drama graduate to take this view – of course I would see the value in the type of education I had! I simply want to encourage employers to see the value in graduates from across the disciplines – and for young people to be encouraged to study the subjects that fascinate them.

When I hear about reduced funding for arts based subjects and a decline in young people seeing the arts as a viable option leading to future employment, I can’t help but wish there was a stronger narrative about the benefits of the arts, humanities and social sciences to employers.

Rebecca Lewis Smith is managing director of Fountain Partnership.

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