The writer, of Omaha, is director of Nebraskans for the Arts. She is a member of the Omaha Public Schools board.
The World-Herald editorial this past Sunday identified an employment skills gap as described by more than 400 Nebraska business owners who participated in a survey.
The editorial praised the Career Pathways Institute in Grand Island for stepping up to meet the growing need for employable high school graduates in the areas of manufacturing, information technology and health care. Grand Island educational leaders pointed out that technical skills aren’t the only areas taught in their programs but that students need skills in time management, problem- solving, analytical thinking and communication throughout their K-12 education.
This theme is echoed around the world as students are entering the workforce and employers are recognizing the need for “soft skills” to access the full potential of the technical capability of their employees. In addition to those identified in Grand Island, soft skills include assets such as teamwork, patience and motivation.
Mark Zupan, dean of the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester, was quoted by BBC Capital online as saying that “speaking and writing are the number one set of skills that our advisory board and recruiters say need more work.”
Area colleges and universities confirmed this need at a forum hosted this fall by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals. Officials from Nebraska Wesleyan, the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Creighton University, Metropolitan Community College and Bellevue University all concurred that while graduates have assets in technical proficiency, they are often lacking in the areas required to develop the most innovative, thoughtful and resourceful employees.
Fortunately, there is a growing body of research and evidence which suggest that a strong arts education is the link between promoting advanced technological students and evolving those who are also employable.
According to Americans for the Arts (AFTA), 72 percent of employers say creativity is the No. 1 skill they look for when hiring. At the international INSEAD Business School, Professor Ian Woodward teaches voice training, body language and verbal and nonverbal communication skills. The Arts Education Partnership lists multiple studies citing the effect of the arts in cultivating critical-thinking skills, leadership, problem-solving and communication.
There is also a markedly positive correlation between the arts and high student achievement, including across socioeconomic levels. AFTA’s research finds that students with high arts participation and a low socioeconomic status have a dropout rate five times lower than their low socioeconomic peers.
For Nebraska, the timing of the World-Herald editorial couldn’t be better. The Nebraska Department of Education is currently reviewing and receiving public comment on new fine-arts standards. Citizens may provide input on the standards at the department’s website or by attending the public hearing on Jan. 16.
As our schools rise to meet the needs of our solid technical and manufacturing base, let’s take this opportunity to be national leaders in the area of arts-enhanced curriculum and arts integration as a reasoned and educationally sound approach to academic success and thoroughly prepared students.