There was much talk across the blogosphere last week about a CIBC World Markets report about the value of education. In a nutshell, the study suggested that there is still value on the job market in having a university degree. However, many students see a poor return on the investment of the time and money they put into their education because they study subjects for which there is little demand.

“Despite the overwhelming evidence that one’s field of study is the most important factor determining labour market outcomes, today’s students have not gravitated to more financially advantageous fields in a way that reflects the changing reality of the labour market,” said CIBC Deputy Chief Economist Benjamin Tal.

The report shows the most financially lucrative degrees for both men and women are in medicine, law and engineering, while the life sciences, humanities and social sciences provide a much lower ROI. (You can download the full report here.)

That news might leave some liberal arts grads fearing that their education may have been a waste of time and tuition from a financial point of view. Well, another new study just out has found that liberal arts students can greatly increase their potential on the job market if they add some technical skills such as marketing, graphic design or programming to their resumes.

Burning Glass, a company that specializes in analyzing labour market trends, has identified eight technical skill sets that liberal arts students or grads can obtain through extra coursework or internships. Acquiring one or more of these greatly increases the opportunities open to arts grads, and gives their starting salaries a boost at the same time.

The top technical skills to add to your liberal arts resume:

  • Social media
  • Marketing
  • Computer programming
  • Sales
  • Business
  • Graphic design
  • Data analysis
  • IT networking


The report found that the demand for expertise in social media management was growing faster than any of the other skills.

For this report, Burning Glass analyzed millions of entry-level job openings between July 2012 and June 2013. They found that developing even one of the eight technical proficiencies listed above can give candidates access to nearly double the jobs (90% more), and that these additional opportunities offer an average salary of $6,000 more than those of entry-level jobs usually available to liberal arts grads. (You can download the full report here.)

Humanities graduates traditionally have honed valuable skills such as researching, writing, and communicating, as well as critical thinking and problem solving. These are often cited as among the proficiencies most sought after by employers in new hires.

“When combining these skills with workforce-specific competencies, a liberal arts education becomes highly valuable,” said Burning Glass CEO Matthew Sigelman.