British Academy spotlights 12 humanities and social sciences graduates revealing how their skills are vital to UK prosperity

17 Nov 2022

Person giving a presentation in a room to a small group of people.

Graduates in the SHAPE disciplines (Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy) build exciting and varied careers and make invaluable contributions to the UK’s economy and society, a new British Academy report shows.

SHAPE Skills at Work explores how roles in the UK workforce depend on the skills acquired through studying the humanities and social sciences and reveals the varied opportunities that studying these subjects at degree level provides. It features 12 case studies of SHAPE graduates who have applied their unique skills in a range of careers.

Those interviewed include a philosophy graduate who now works at Google as a product lead for Android machine learning, a theology graduate who directed Cambridge University Hospital’s strategy during the pandemic, and a video and film editor who originally studied business management.

The report concludes the Academy’s original Skills programme, a five-year project launched in 2017 to demonstrate how SHAPE graduates:

  • contribute to innovation across our economy – over half of the UK’s leading start-ups as of August 2022 were founded by SHAPE graduates and 59% of the leaders of FTSE 100 companies have backgrounds in SHAPE disciplines
  • are employed by a wide range of businesses, from the NHS and Google to Deloitte and The Sunday Times, in a variety of roles including video and film editors, software engineers and data journalists. For instance, SHAPE Skills at Work highlights the role of theology graduate Dan Northam Jones, who played a vital role improving an NHS Trust’s resilience during the COVID pandemic
  • play an essential role in the public sector – just over 80% of successful candidates in the civil service Fast Stream and Fast Track programmes have degrees in SHAPE and other non-science disciplines, while many SHAPE graduates go into roles in vital sectors such as teaching and social work.

As part of the Skills programme, the Academy has published three reports. The Right Skills (2017) showed that pursuing SHAPE disciplines delivers core skills essential for future work, while Qualified for the Future (2020) demonstrated the demand for these skills across the UK economy. SHAPE Skills at Work completes the project, though the Academy will continue to research the value and impact of these disciplines and monitor their health through the SHAPE Observatory.

Professor Sir Ian Diamond FBA, the UK’s National Statistician and Chief Executive of the Office for National Statistics who led the Academy’s Skills programme, said:

“This timely report concludes the Academy’s long-running Skills programme, which has established a strong and irrefutable body of evidence for the value of the SHAPE disciplines. Not only do these subjects equip graduates with the skills to navigate demanding and ever-changing professional environments; they are also essential to the success of our economy and society.

“Dispelling many myths surrounding the relationship between the humanities and social sciences and employability, the 12 case studies contained in the report illustrate how the SHAPE disciplines prepare graduates for a world where creative, strategic and versatile thinkers are in high demand.”

Oli Gaymond, Product Lead for Android Machine Learning at Google, said: 

“Philosophy taught me how to view an issue from multiple perspectives while being able to reach my own conclusion and clearly articulate it to others. These skills have been invaluable in building products, helping to draw upon the diverse perspectives of all collaborators while working towards a singular objective. When working in a fast-evolving space such as machine intelligence it’s helpful to draw upon the creativity and rigour that philosophy equips you with, enabling you to find novel approaches and remain undaunted by wide-open possibilities."

Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, Neurodiversity Consultant at Sparkle Class, said: 

“My English literature degree has been invaluable to my work as a neurodiversity consultant and trainer, equipping me with strong writing and speaking skills that have helped me succeed in my field. Through studying the work of different writers, I have developed innovative, engaging and sometimes unorthodox ways of delivering training which my clients respond well to. Autistics are often portrayed as bad communicators, so I find it ironic that, as an autistic person with hyperlexia, I now teach others how to be better communicators!”

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