The Study of Liberal Arts versus Occupational Training

Class: English (ENG4U1)
Date: October 19, 2006
The Assignment: Compare the study of liberal arts and occupational training and choose which path is best. *cough*rememberthisisEnglishclass*cough*
Level: 4+

Today’s society revolves around businesses and the economy. Universities and colleges possess a constant supply of new students to contribute to the workforce, but in society’s rush to make a profit, has practical education been left behind? Many students feel pressure to be trained in one specific area, but having knowledge of a wide variety of subjects is very beneficial. Liberal arts and humanities students are able to adapt to new situations and choose from a wide variety of careers. They can also use their knowledge of one subject to aid in their understanding of another.

One argument presented by those in favour of specialization is that the liberal arts are useless and have no real value in helping students obtain a job. However, the lessons learned in liberal arts and humanities courses will always be more relevant than those in technological courses will. The skills taught in arts courses are appropriate for any career. Simply learning facts—which can quickly become out of date—without understanding them, is a true lesson in futility.

While some may argue that specialization yields a higher income, this is only true for the years immediately following graduation. Liberal arts students initially may not make as much money as vocationally educated students, but Professor Doug Owram observes, “what’s really striking is the gains they make over five years—the gap starts to close” (McMaster, 1–2). Specifically trained students are able to make a profit, but are unable to increase their earnings because they can only participate in one specific area of their company; liberal arts students, on the other hand, have the ability to grow and enhance their knowledge—and salary.

Liberal arts students are capable of earning a higher income because they have “learned how to learn”. Taking a variety of courses prepares the students for not only a career, but also for their life. It is much easier for them to adapt to new situations, having participated in a wide variety of areas of study. They can easily work their way up the corporate ladder with their diverse knowledge and skills, while vocationally trained students are destined to stay in one area, for it is harder for them to adjust to new conditions.

Students who take liberal arts have a wide variety of career choices upon graduation from university, as opposed to students with specialized degrees who may only choose from a few. In studying many general topics, “graduates in humanities and social sciences possess the problem-solving, interpersonal, communications, and learning skills that employers claim are needed in the emerging economy” (Giles, 1). The skills they have gained can be applied to any career, giving them endless opportunities. They are also given the chance to switch between careers if they find they do not enjoy their original choice. Occupationally trained students, however, may find themselves returning to school, studying the liberal arts this time, in order to obtain a more enjoyable and fulfilling career.

Enrolling in a mixture of subjects can help students to become stronger in their main career area. Taking a foreign language course, especially French for students in Canada, allows a student the chance to work at the government job or internationally. Drama courses can help with public speaking and communication skills. Analyzing novels and history helps the student understand the people and the world around them. Furthermore, students “will obtain skills and knowledge that are never obsolete” (Sigurdson, 2) whereas the facts learned in occupational training can quickly become out of date in our technologically advancing world. Many of these arts courses are unavailable to those practicing in one specific career stream, depriving them of the chance to develop essential workplace skills.

It is clear that the study of arts and humanities is not useless, and in fact is often more beneficial than being forced into a single career path. Students need to be aware of the truth that is often silenced by businesses that are only concerned with the profit they can make, and not the employee’s full potential to learn. Studying the liberal arts is only the beginning of a lifetime of learning and growth.

Works Cited

Giles, Philip, and Torben Drewes. “Liberal arts degrees and the labour market.” Simon Fraser University. 15 Oct. 2006. <>.

McMaster, Geoff. “Grads get more stable, higher-paying jobs, survey says.” University of Alberta. 15 Oct. 2006. <>.

Sigurdson, Richard. “Why Study Liberal Arts?.” University of Manitoba. 16 Oct. 2006. <>.