SHAPE Skills at Work

by The British Academy

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SHAPE Skills at Work presents a collection of 12 case studies that bring to life the many ways in which SHAPE (Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts for People and the Economy) skills are utilised across the economy, showcasing the careers and successes of a broad collection of SHAPE graduates. The SHAPE graduates interviewed as part of this report are employed in fulfilling careers across a wide range of sectors, from financial services and education to media and technology. They include a Product Lead in a multinational technology firm, a Chief Sustainability Officer for a Big 6 energy company, a Consultant in software engineering, and a Director of Strategy for an NHS Foundation Trust.

This third and final report in the British Academy’s flagship Skills Programme, gives voice to the evidence presented in our previous Skills Programme reports, The Right Skills and Qualified for the Future. Our case study participants illustrate how SHAPE skills lead to success for individuals, society, and the economy.

“My history studies helped me learn to get to the point and communicate accessibly in a great range of outputs, including large reports, articles, and exhibitions for the public”.

– Community Engagement Officer, Greater London Authority

This report celebrates findings that SHAPE graduates are:

  • Employed across the UK economy. The small sample of 12 cases included in this report offer insights into over half of sectors in the UK Standard Industrial Classification hierarchy, illustrating the breadth of skills developed by SHAPE graduates.
  • Utilising highly valued skills in a variety of sectors, with our case study participants demonstrating skills in communication and collaboration, attitudes and behaviours, and research and analysis.
  • Passionate about their disciplines, ambitious to make positive differences, and intellectually curious about different societies and perspectives.

SHAPE Skills at Work

The 12 case studies that form the core of this report demonstrate the breadth of career options available to SHAPE graduates. While this is a limited sample, meaning that these cases are not representative of all disciplines and career paths, they illustrate the breadth of expertise and skills gained from studying SHAPE disciplines. Most importantly, the cases provide real-life illustrations of how crucial SHAPE skills are to the participants’ careers.

“Appreciating other people’s positions and background is so important in my career, from working in publishing with multidisciplinary teams to running my own business”.

– Director of Strategy, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Core SHAPE skills as identified in The Right Skills (2017) and by case study participants:

SHAPE Skills at Work figure 1

The case studies in this report demonstrate how the core skills outlined in The Right Skills are present and evident in the working lives of SHAPE graduates. As illustrated in the figure above, participants identified core skills across attitudes and behaviours, communication and collaboration, and research and analysis, alongside additional skills of understanding people, interdisciplinary working, and entrepreneurialism. Our case study participants recognise these skills in their abilities and approaches to day to day working and articulate how the skills gained in SHAPE study are valuable and relevant across a range industries.

“Being able to work in this uncertainty — making decisions, balancing demands now and anticipating future needs while working within constraints — is something I have brought with me from my philosophy bachelor’s and master’s degrees”.

– Senior Software Engineer Consultant

The skills nurtured through SHAPE degrees equip graduates for a range of roles across diverse sectors. From a Theology and Religious Studies graduate delivering NHS hospital strategy in Cambridgeshire to a graduate of Political Thought and Economics creating the conditions for action on net-zero and sustainability in one of the Big 6 energy providers, SHAPE skills are hard at work for individuals, society, and the economy. The case study participants in our report showcase how SHAPE skills – including communication, working with others, problem-solving, creative thinking, and flexibility – are helping to tackle some of the greatest challenges facing society today.

About the British Academy SHAPE Skills Programme

The British Academy Skills Programme includes two other reports, The Right Skills (2017), which identified the core skills gained from studying SHAPE disciplines, while also showcasing the contributions of SHAPE graduates to the workforce and society as a whole, and Qualified for the Future (2020), a quantitative data-driven piece that demonstrated the demand for SHAPE skills across the UK economy. We hope that the evidence that has emerged from our Skills Programme will continue to cultivate understanding of the diversity and significance of SHAPE expertise and skills in a constantly evolving and uncertain economy and society.

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