Careers for arts students in the age of automation 

Student collaborating on a project.

King warrior Written by special contributor 

If you’re interested in other cultures, art, literature, history, human relationships, society, politics, law... you’re probably really suited for an arts degree.

But what does that mean for you in a world where technology, computers, and artificial intelligence (AI) are on the cusp of changing our society?

More than you can imagine. A degree in humanities, social sciences, languages, or creative arts opens career pathways you may have never considered. More importantly, it gives you transferable skills that’ll help you become a leader in the arts, in government, or across industries.


Industry trends: creative jobs of the future

A model of the human brain.

Beyond numbers

The world seems to run on numbers these days: the binary code of computers and programming, financial transactions, the mathematical models behind big data and AI. 

But who decides which questions to ask of big data? How do we decide what data to process? Asking good questions of big data requires workers with the ability to think creatively and critically from multiple perspectives.

And once we’ve run the numbers, we need someone to interpret the results. Statistical analysis might find patterns in the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data generated every day, but it can’t explain the “why” of human behaviour.

For that, employers need someone who understands how people think and how they relate to one another. Someone who can combine knowledge and intuition to solve problems, make products that people love, pass laws, or create social programs that will work. 

That’s where arts grads come in. Arts grads work as research analysts, business development managers, product designers, and project managers to make sense of data and translate it into actionable plans and strategies that work for people.

A student wearing VR goggles.

Beyond robots

AI and machine learning will eliminate 75 million jobs in the next few years and this type of drastic change can have catastrophic impacts on the lives of millions. The upside is, AI will also create 130 million, new, unheard-of opportunities as humanity adjusts to the new normal.

As a society, our ethics will be tested, our policies rewritten, our laws challenged. Doing what’s right for our country, our citizens, and the world will require people who can imagine, inform, and make big decisions.

The new world needs to be transformed by people with broad-based, ethically informed educations in fields such as philosophy, sociology, law, communications, and economics. In short: arts grads!

A design project on a laptop screen.

It’s about people

At the intersection of the digital world and humanity, arts grads find work in designing video games that solve problems, or in helping make applications more user friendly.

User-centric thinking isn’t just an afterthought of digital application and production, however. Arts grads make up a larger percentage of the tech workforce than tech grads.

That’s because arts grads are uniquely qualified to identify and understand human skills and human needs, and to help translate and coordinate with machines and multidisciplinary teams throughout product development.

Co-op student heading to work.

It’s about unique skills

In a study of Canada’s largest companies, employers value transferable skills over technical knowledge. Why? It’s simple: an arts degrees teaches you how to think in a big picture way and collaborate better. These skills are increasingly important in a workforce that is multi-disciplinary and requires good communication, insights about others, and empathetic leadership.

An arts degree teaches you how to think in a big-picture way — and to communicate that vision clearly and persuasively. Combining these skills with a basic understanding of technology helps meet an urgent, rising “market demand for agile and resilient thinkers who have a handle on digital literacies”.


93%of employers say a person's capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.Association of American Colleges and Universities
55%of the world’s professional leaders are social sciences and humanities gradsUniversities Canada

Arts grads are vital communicators

They shape and explore human experience and behaviour as journalists, writers, editors, digital media specialists, communication specialists, or as artists, actors, or performers. Arts grads in these careers engage us in understanding the world, current events, and each other through their storytelling.

And that makes grads adaptable

The world of work is going to change dramatically in the next 10 years. Jobs will be lost, and new jobs created. It’s increasingly inevitable that workers will have many jobs over their careers.

Arts students are uniquely positioned to adapt and lead because of the transferable skills acquired during their studies. Things like critical thinking, analytical reasoning, constructing persuasive arguments, teamwork, and people skills.

Adaptability means more opportunity. Social sciences and humanities grads are working across a wider range of industries and occupations than graduates of any other field. They work all over the world. They work in public, private, and not-for-profit organizations. The breadth and scope of opportunities is only going to increase as technology and social forces change the world of work.

Imaginative leaders

“The jobs of the future… will require creative, compassionate, and empathetic leaders who create trust, build teams, inspire service, and communicate effectively. (Inc., 2019)

Arts grads make great leaders because of their adaptability, unique skills, insight, and their way with people. In fact, 55 per cent of the world’s professional leaders, in over 30 countries and across industries, are social sciences and humanities grads. One study even noted that arts grads are better leaders than MBA holders.

There you have it! Arts grads are leaders. Culture shapers. Storytellers. Makers and doers. Agents of change. Policy makers. People protectors. If you were thinking about a degree in humanities, social sciences, or the creative arts, your career can be an evolving work of art – just like you!


Arts grads make great leaders because of their adaptability, unique skills, insight, and their way with people.

Meeting the challenge

Your education needs to change with technology, society, and the world of work. The Faculty of Arts at Waterloo works hard to make sure your education meets those needs and prepares you for a successful career in your chosen field.

A symbol for co-op.

By combining robust co-op experience with a liberal arts education in a unique entrepreneurial ecosystem that values imaginative leadership.

A sybmol for learning.

By building your education around the concept of life-long learning so that you’re always ready to take on new challenges and adapt to changes in the world of work.

A symbol for industry.

By checking in with industry partners and co-op employers to ensure you’re gaining the most important skills that employers are looking for.


Arts student with a virtual reality headset on

Arts and humanities careers: they're everywhere!

So, how does a B.A. lead to a job? In arts and humanities, your degree might be less closely tied to your job title than, say, an engineer’s. Most B.A. programs could lead to a career in law, for example. And there are arts grads in every industry: for instance, there are communications positions in film, finance, hospitals, agriculture, renewable energy, tech, transportation. That’s because the skills that B.A. grads have developed — and that employers value the most — underpin all Bachelor of Arts programs. That’s how an arts degree prepares you for jobs that might not even exist today and gives you the freedom to work in a field that you’re passionate about.

Here's a list of degree programs at Waterloo and careers they could lead to. Some career paths require additional training — a diploma, certificate, or master’s degree can help you find your niche. Waterloo’s Centre for Career Development has counsellors dedicated to supporting Waterloo students through the application process, whether it’s to teacher’s college, law school, or a digital design specialty. And consider Waterloo’s world-renowned co-op program: it gives you the opportunity to earn money and test out a career path or industry before you graduate.

Social sciences

  • Anthropology
    • Design researcher
    • Field archaeologist
    • Forensic anthropologist
  • Economics
    • Commercial analyst
    • Demographer
    • Economist
    • Market analyst
    • Stockbroker
  • Gender and Social Justice
    • Counselling coordinator
    • Social worker
  • Legal Studies
    • Accommodations consultant
    • Contract negotiator
    • Lawyer
  • Peace and Conflict Studies
    • Conflict transformation advisor
    • Diplomat
    • Disaster preparedness analyst
    • Emergency shelter worker
    • Fundraising coordinator
    • Human rights officer
    • Negotiator
  • Political Science
    • Lawyer
    • Lobbyist
    • Political aide
    • Research analyst
    • Trade policy officer
  • Psychology
    • Child and youth counsellor
    • Cognitive behavioural therapist
    • Industrial psychologist
    • Psychiatrist
  • Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Studies
    • Client support, Planned Parenthood
    • Counsellor
    • Youth support worker
  • Social Development Studies
    • Coordinator, Newcomer support services
    • Crisis intervention worker
    • Trauma counsellor
  • Sociology
    • Addictions counsellor
    • Human resources coordinator
    • Law enforcement agent
    • Learning and development specialist
    • Social worker


  • Classical Studies
    • Lawyer
    • Librarian
    • Mediator
    • Minister
    • Teacher
  • Communication Studies
    • Communications advisor
    • Human resources coordinator
    • Instructional designer
    • Marketing manager
    • Media relations manager
    • Public relations manager
    • UX researcher
    • UX writer
  • English
    • Communications advisor
    • Content strategist
    • Copywriter
    • Editor
    • Grant writer
    • Journalist
    • Media relations manager
    • Public relations manager
  • History
    • Academic librarian
    • Archivist
    • Conservation officer
    • Lawyer
    • Museum curator
    • Policy analyst
    • Researcher
  • Medieval Studies
    • Archivist
    • Collections manager
    • Lawyer
    • Librarian
    • Professor
  • Philosophy
    • Foreign service officer
    • Journalist
    • Political aide
    • Policy analyst
  • Religious Studies
    • Chaplain
    • Mediator
    • Minister
    • Teacher

Fine and performing arts

  • Fine Arts
    • Appraiser
    • Art therapist
    • Character rigger (3D animation)
    • Compositing artist
    • Curator
    • Graphic designer
    • Design researcher
    • Illustrator
    • Interior designer
    • Medical illustrator
    • Prop maker (film, television, theatre)
    • Textile designer
    • Storyboard illustrator
    • Visual artist
    • Web designer
  • Music
    • Audio production
    • Composer
    • Director
    • Music therapist
    • Performing artist
    • Sound designer
    • Special effects technician
    • Teacher
  • Theatre and Performance
    • Agent
    • Armourer
    • Casting director
    • Fight choreographer
    • Lighting designer
    • Operations manager
    • Set designer
    • Stage manager
    • Technical director
    • Theatre director

Languages and cultures

  • French, German, Spanish
    • Business consultant
    • Immigration officer
    • Interpreter
    • Purchaser, international markets
    • Teacher
    • Translator

What's next


Related articles