It’s well documented that a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education is important for today’s students, because in our high-tech world, companies are looking for employees that will have the skills necessary to power the jobs of tomorrow.
As music educators, we also know the critical role that music plays in a student’s growth and development. Music is a gateway to engaged learning and studies show that music education aids in language development, reading comprehension, improved memory, problem solving, and mental processing.
Performing arts are also one of the few inherently collaborative subjects left in schools, and are key to developing social and emotional skills including adaptability, emotional recognition, empathy, and confidence. Through music education, students develop strong listening, communication, critical and creative thinking skills as well as the ability to work as a team. These are many of the soft skills that they will need to succeed in the 21st-century workforce.
According to LinkedIn’s Emerging Job Report, soft skills are seen as key competencies in emerging job categories including technology. Hiring managers are looking for workers with high levels of adaptability, culture fit, collaboration, leadership skills and growth potential, according to the report.
Raising the Value of Music Within Education
Creativity is the heart of innovation. However, the perception today is that music education doesn’t provide these important skills that students need for the future and that employers are looking for.
A recent survey conducted by our organization, WURRLYedu, found that nearly half of respondents said an education should develop “critical thinking and problem solving skills.” Yet, when asked what subjects are most likely to provide these skills, only 5% percent listed music. The most popular subject choices were math, with 34 percent, followed by science with 28 percent.
Further, when asked what subjects develop the skills that employers are looking for when hiring candidates, only 5 percent said music. The highest is again math with 37 percent, and science with 29 percent.
Music’s ranking also drops as students get older. Survey respondents ranked music as the fourth most important subject for elementary students (only reading, english, and math ranked higher out of the fifteen subjects on the list), the sixth most important subject for middle school students, but then the twelfth most important subject for high school students (ranking lower than physical education, public speaking and art).
There has been much written about how music and the arts can support the STEM curriculum. To successfully do this, how do we as music educators increase the perceived value of our programs to future employers? How do we incentivize employers to recruit students with a foundation in the arts similar to the way they do with STEM students? How do we create a set of common standards to ensure these soft skills are being taught in music education in schools?
Partnering with Leading Employers
More than twenty years ago, various reports suggested that U.S. students needed to increase their proficiency in STEM disciplines to compete in the global economy. At the time, many math and science education councils and foundations worked with educators to shape the STEM curriculum. Former President Barack Obama brought STEM to the forefront during his presidency and pledged hundreds of millions in funding for teacher training, grants, and research, to boost the study of STEM fields.
Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and numerous other companies all pledge millions of dollars to STEM programs annually as they know these programs are developing their future workforce.
We as an industry need to partner with the country’s biggest employers, including those in the music industry, to determine which soft skills they are looking for when hiring candidates so we can integrate them into our music education curriculum. While there is much research on the benefits of music education, there isn’t as much data on how these benefits will translate into the workforce. Through partnering with top employers, we can work together to create research and get their assistance to support that the arts can help develop those soft skills that they desire. By working together, we can expand our network of supporters, and our importance in the school ecosystem rises.
Establishing Success Metrics
Historically, arts education has been under appreciated because it’s difficult to measure its contribution to academic performance. We know the many positive benefits that music education offers, but we don’t actually include that as an expectation on any music program. We have Core Standards, but these are broadly defined, and few really touch on social and emotional skill development. By establishing a set of success metrics and measurement around music education and the skills needed for our future workforce, we can help support them with content, training and a community.
The soft skills that students develop through music education will be fundamental to both the emerging technology and non-technology related jobs of the future. The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 percent of children entering primary school today will ultimately hold jobs that don’t yet exist. The future of music education needs to incorporate standards to develop the soft skills that students need and companies willing to support these initiatives.