To a small extent they have a point; arts graduates do have slightly lower rates of employment, and most (ir)reputable banking firms, for example, would much rather hear ideas on Keynesian economics rather than my ideas on Goethe's Faust, even if the banking firm in question is the Deutsche one. Because of this, I have been guilty of bemoaning my own situation several times, exasperatedly demanding the people around me to tell me “what on earth” I’m going to do with MY degree. However, as part of my compulsory year abroad trip of self-discovery (often undertaken in the warmth and comfort of Viennese coffee houses, if you’re interested) I think this is wrong. Instead I should be lauding the benefits the arts bring, and hopefully changing the hearts and minds of a few relatives and employers who think arts students en général lack employability.
I’m sure that a few very obvious reasons spring to mind why theatre might be useful to apprentices: confidence, public speaking, etc. But Prof. Spitzer was not suggesting anything quite so obvious as this. Instead, arguing with the kind of dogmatic assuredness that only a middle-aged man with an excessive endowment of academic titles can, he offered both theatre and the arts in general as the best way to combat digital dementia (see here for something a little alarming) and turn young people into well-rounded individuals capable of doing any job well. To summarise his argument embarrassingly quickly, performing Shakespeare will improve the motor skills and coordination of the apprentices, and reading and understanding a complicated text will create far stronger and lasting connections between synapses in the brain, whilst requiring them to improve their concentration on certain tasks. Repeat the process by having the apprentices read multiple books, perform multiple plays and thereby encounter many different views and arguments, and they’ll be able to concentrate for longer, find solutions to problems faster, be more adaptable, and even google better! They’ll also most likely suffer from mental degeneration much later on in life. In Internet speak, that’s much win.
Clearly, a person who has had the benefits of studying an arts subject should not immediately be thought of as having fewer job prospects and therefore less of a chance. And if you’ve managed to spend your university years arguing that, for example, a Marxist reading is the only suitable way to interpret everything from Orwell’s 1984 to How I Met Your Mother, then you’re probably a very adaptable person who will learn quickly on the job. So the next time somebody asks me what I’m going to do with my degree, I’ll look up from my PGCE application, smile and tell them I can do anything.