Empower your conversations with new data: What executives really think about the impact of the arts on workforce skills

Posted by Mr. Bruce E. Whitacre, Oct 26, 2015 1 comment

Does business have any skin in the arts education game? And if they do, can we rally business support to help ensure that all students have access to arts education? After all, business has been in the forefront of other social change movements, such as LGBT marriage rights.  Besides business, can we also make a stronger justification for the role of the arts in strengthening our workforce to educators, policy makers, and governments? 

On October 8,  Theatre Forward, formerly National Corporate Theatre Fund, along with consortium partners Americans for the Arts, Educational Theatre Association and Young Audiences, released a report, “Unmasking Business Success: Executive Perceptions of Arts Engagement and Workforce Skills”, based on a survey we commissioned from Shugoll Research. 

Shugoll surveyed 200 corporate managers and executives to explore connections between arts engagement (arts education, attending performances and participation in arts-making) and workforce skills.  You can download the report here: www.theatreforward.org/success

We wanted to see if arts engagement can predict executive success or contribute to a strong workforce. No one has specifically assessed this connection before; most research focuses on the impact of the arts on school performance and completion.

Here are the five takeaways to empower advocacy and policy so that the arts are a core part of everyone’s education:

• New employees are lacking essential skills. The extremely low perceptions of the 21st century skills new employees bring to their jobs means our current system is not working.  It is a call to action that reinforces a broad refrain in the corporate community about the crisis in workforce preparedness. Only 4% of incoming workers are seen as having leadership skills, for example. And more experienced employees aren’t much better!

• A major perception gap exists amongst executives. Unaided, few executives thought the arts could address this problem; but when prompted, 58% say that the arts can build these skills; and for many specific traits, such as ability to work with others, focus, and perseverance, that percentage was over 70%. Creativity and confidence were over 80%.  The great news is that the contribution of the arts to success in education carries over to the workplace.  The bad news is, executives don’t readily make this connection. This perception gap is a great way to start new conversations even for our closest supporters, who may not be closing this gap themselves.

• Arts engagement is for everyone. A majority of executives, 56%, say the arts develop job skills that are valuable in industries outside the creative sector. So, we can affirm that arts engagement is for everyone, not just those heading off into the “creative economy”.  More importantly, these findings point to how lack of access to arts education impairs opportunity for students in low income schools, where arts education is often very limited or unavailable altogether.

• The arts have impact on career success. Nearly 90% of executives participated in the arts in school; nearly half of them say the arts significantly contributed to their career success, and that ongoing participation in the arts impacts their compassion towards others. Arts engagement has a high correlation to career success.   This data serves as a longitudinal confirmation that the arts have impact on career success and quality of life.

• We need to deepen the conversation. Only 22% of executives think this justifies their business supporting the arts and arts education, and only 10% feel arts organizations do a good job communicating these benefits.  The take away here is pretty clear: we need to deepen the conversation.

So how do we do that?  Here are some ideas that strike me, and I look forward to yours:

These points together are a strong rationale for including arts as a core subject in the renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).    These skills are required in our workforce, so they should be required in our education system.

 The fact that even those who attribute a major portion of their success to their arts training don’t make that connection on an unaided basis is a big concern.  Here is where I’m going to focus our conversations. Hence, the title “Unmasking Business Success”: there is a little recognized secret to workforce skills, and that is arts engagement.  

For business and policy leaders, this survey gives you better tools to advocate for a range of important steps:

  • Support nonprofits that provide arts education services to students, in-school or out-of-school;
  • Don’t let budget pressures force the curtailment of arts education programs, since they are vital to our economy and to our students’ future careers.
  • As a parent, a school board member, and a community member, all of us need to stand up for ALL children so they have the opportunity to experience the arts and develop the skills critical to our future.

Otherwise, since executives confirm that the workforce demands the skills the arts develop, for those students in poor schools who have little or no access to arts engagement, we are creating a key opportunity gap for their career success.

What stands out to you?  How do you think we in the field should use this important new perspective?  I’ll follow your comments here, and you can join the broader conversation we have all launched on Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/TheatreForward

1 responses for Empower your conversations with new data: What executives really think about the impact of the arts on workforce skills


October 28, 2015 at 11:52 pm

Wonderful points, Bruce. I would also add that we could develop more arts programs for the business sector as well. I agree that it is good to begin teaching these valuable skills in younger years, but we could also help provide the existing sector with arts programs to bring them up to speed. I have heard of a few chorale and theatre programs for executives and employees which taught the aforementioned skills that some people are now lacking due to arts cuts in the education system. 
The best scenario of course is to work the arts magic at both ends of the spectrum! This way, everyone can enjoy the many benefits that the arts provide. 
Shoshana Fanizza
Audience Development Specialists

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