I bet you’re thinking the most valued skills employers are looking for in university graduates are intellect and academic grades, right? Wrong! Think again. A number of surveys in recent years have cited communication, confidence, creativity and passion as the most sought after skills in graduate employees. Many of these reports are also placing academic performance low on the list. This positions drama education in an enviable position in the education system, as many of the skills our students learn in the drama classroom, either directly or as a by-product of work undertaken, are the very skills graduate employers are searching for with young employees in the workforce.
Graduate Careers Australia’s 2010 Graduate Outlook Survey ranked employers’ top ten skills and attributes (as ranked by employers; ranked by proportion of employers who considered each to be an important selection criterion) as follows:
1. Interpersonal and communication skills (written and oral)
2. Drive and commitment/industry knowledge
3. Critical reasoning and analytical skills/technical skills
4. Calibre of academic results
5. Cultural alignment/values fit
6. Work experience
7. Teamwork skills
8. Emotional intelligence (including self-awareness, confidence, motivation)
9. Leadership skill
10. Activities (including intra and extracurricular)
It should be clear that teamwork and emotional intelligence are also key skills students undertaking drama and theatre studies achieve. By their very nature, theatre-making and play building are group tasks, involving the ability to successfully work in teams through collaboration with colleagues. This is where leaders are born, where the difficult skill of negotiation is carefully crafted, where compromise is viewed as a positive outcome instead of failure, and where oral communication skills are paramount.
At is heart, drama education teaches students to be acutely aware of their emotions in order to adopt characters for performance. In drama studies, students connect with their own emotions and the emotions of others on a near-daily basis. They learn to identify, understand, respond to and manage emotions in a variety of real and fictional situations. Emotional intelligence is a transferable skills that can be taken directly from the drama classroom into the workforce, post secondary education.
A 2013 Graduate Outlook Survey conducted by Graduate Opportunities.com asked graduate employers to rate in order of importance the most valued skills they were looking for in young candidates. The results were as follows:
- Interpersonal communication skills
- Logic and technical skills
- Academic results
- Work experience
- Cultural alignment/values fit
- Emotional intelligence
- Teamwork skills
- Co-curricular activities
- Leadership skills
The two results that surprised me most on this list was leadership skills at No.10 and passion at No.2. Today in Year 12 Drama class I went through the tedious task of checking that my students had completed their homework from the previous lesson (which of course, they all had completed) and then openly said to them “I don’t know why I bother checking your homework, because you’re all so passionate about drama class, I may as well assume in future all homework is completed without checking”. As a graduate employee, if you are passionate about your line of work, your leaders or your workplace, then you may just possess that golden skill in the modern workforce known as commitment. You may even stay with the same employer for ten or fifteen years, a rarity in today’s job market.
The Australian Association of Graduate Employers reported in 2015 that some of the most sought after skills in new employees included:
- Interpersonal skills
- Oral communication skills
- Decision making
- Judgement skills
- Time management
- Conceptual thinking
- Problem-solving skills
Too often in education do we associate skills such as conceptual thinking and problem-solving to the maths and sciences. Students regularly undertake complex problem-solving as part of their drama studies and think conceptually in order to create imaginary and fictional characters by analysing hypothetical situations and abstract ideas. Analytical skills and decision-making are underrated in drama education. They are critical skills needed in the workforce that are successfully employed by drama students.
So next time a friend or colleague tells you studying drama or theatre at high school will get you nowhere, tell them to think again, because many of the key skills learned in drama class are precisely what employers are looking for.