1. Introduction - Competencies development and the requirement of a new skillset:
The fast pace constantly changing business environment globally has given rise to a number of new competency requirements for professionals. Communication, Time Management, Empathy, Creative Thinking, Innovation, Adaptability, Teamwork, Trust and other areas have become paramount according to a number of surveys (i.e. PwC The talent challenge: Harnessing the power of human skills in the machine age, 2017).
As the survey suggests, soft skills are becoming more ‘hard’ to find and a ‘battleground’ for organizations to find, build and curate. The assumption is that in a new constantly connected and highly competitive and dynamic environment requires a new skillset that has not been the focus of Universities when preparing graduates for the workplace. College traditionally focused on knowledge, when the key areas of importance today is ‘synthesis’, constant upgrading (Continuing Professional Development) and making sense of the changing environment.
In a recent paper of mine (Kiritsis, IGI, 2018) I laid out the new skillset required by professionals in towards the third decade of the 21st century based on the workplace to actually attempt to find possible solutions. Competencies such as the ones noted below are not dealt with by Universities.
2.1 The changing workplace
The new workplace does not operate within a 9.00 to 17.00 time frame; it is actually 24/7. This implies that students and professionals need time management skills, prioritization skills as well as the skill of "‘multi-tasking’.
The new workplace does not necessarily require a physical premises / location; We now can work virtually. This requires the skill of self - management, communication within a virtual setting, while companies need to find ways of evaluating individuals that are not present physically in the office, not only in terms of results. Studies have indicated that professionals have a higher degree of stress when working alone (Glazer et al, 2012).
The new workplace requires employees to move from one job role to another or from one project to another. This is reinforced by the fact that employees move faster from one organization to another; Job changes (i.e. in the USA suggest that the average worker currently holds 10 different jobs by age 40) is expected to grow according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015). This fact suggests that employees need to be adaptable, agile, flexible and quick in learning.
The new workplace, due to the constant changes arising from inside or outside the organization, require employees to be up-to-date. In some organizations and even some certifications (awarded by professional associations) this is becoming a formal requirement through the concept of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) credits; This implies that whatever degree or qualification we hold, it is logical to assume that ‘upgrading’ and ‘updating’ is required. Students and employees need to understand that the number of degrees one holds is irrelevant with the knowledge and skills one is required to have to succeed. Life – long learning is the only solution. Multinational firms such as PwC, Microsoft, GE and others are fully aware of the benefits of life-long learning which could lead to becoming a source of competitive advantage and they have set up their own corporate Academies.
The new workplace will be attacked by automation, which is ‘killing’ a number of administrative tasks and jobs all together; This does not necessarily mean there will be less jobs; it means that jobs will shift into new areas and possibly through the creation of new industries. Employees need to evaluate and constantly assess the situation. Furthermore, they need to continue to gain skills as their careers lengthen. A recent article in Harvard Business Review (Davenport & Kirby, 2015, p. 61) suggests augmentation as a solution to machines taking over a number of jobs. “We propose a change of mindset, on the part of both workers and providers of work that will lead to different outcomes – a change from pursuing automation to promoting augmentation”. Augmentation means starting with what humans do today and figuring out how that work could be depended rather than diminished by a greater use of machines. If you have not done that already it may be a good time to start.
The new workplace is interactive, intelligent and requires data analysis on a real - time basis; this is a new skill that requires employees to synthesize information and data. The new workplace does not focus on ‘knowledge’ but rather on ‘synthesis’ given that knowledge is available on-line, thus making “synthesis” a more significant term.
The new workplace is being challenged in areas that were once uncontested like the appraisal scheme or the recruitment and selection process. According to Harvard Business Review (2016a), Adobe abandoned the traditional appraisal in 2012 while companies like ourselves at PwC (and others) in 2016 are going “numberless” reinstating performance ratings, using more than one number and keeping the new emphasis on developmental feedback (HBR, October 2016). In the field of recruitment, EY does not even ask for grades to be noted on the CV as they argue that there is no correlation with future work performance: “EY, the global accountancy firm, announced that it was scrapping the requirement for applicants to have a minimum 2:1 degree pass or UCAS point score of 300” (the equivalent of three B grades at A-level) – The Independent, August 3, 2015. These changes by such companies reinforce the argument of schools moving away constantly from the workplace.
In the new workplace “work” is becoming more like “projects”; Employees deal with a significant number of different projects and a number of different people, thus requiring team to have project management skills, effective communication, listening skills, empathy and be self – motivated.
The new workplace has a shorter life cycle than ever. Mergers, Acquisitions, Joint Ventures, partnerships and alliances change the way a business operates and requires flexibility and understanding change, not being resistant and having the readiness required. Furthermore, within the same context, the new workplace makes products and services that have short life cycles;
Overall, the new workplace needs a number of different skills or – in the best case scenario – more of the softer skills, which were not on top of the agenda of most schools and universities. The role of universities was mainly knowledge. Synthesis was required when conducting research but it seems that the corporations have not been happy with what kind of graduates the Universities have been producing based on a number of studies and have moved into taking on the role of the educator to fill the void.
3. Academic Inflation
Another trend which reinforces the need for taking on the responsibility to educate our own staff at corporations is the fact that we are witnessing something called “Academic Inflation” which is not only a worrying statistic, but in reality effectively does not help businesses develop. According to McMurtrey (2013) an over-emphasis in college education creates a surplus of college graduates, and the overqualified surplus start taking high school jobs. Meanwhile, more college graduates are considering upper-level degrees in order to secure their 'college-level' jobs. If this situation permeates, then what would be the financial benefit for the college graduates in high school jobs?
Here is some supporting evidence from my recent talk in Las Vegas for the annual conference of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in 2019:
The laws of supply and demand suggest that this vast increase in the number of graduates should reduce the return on investment in a degree, and to some extent that seems to have happened (Economist, Special report, Excellence v equity, March 26, 2015)
A college degree at the start of a working career does not answer the need for continuous acquisition of new skills, especially as career spans are lengthening. A college degree is still a prerequisite for many jobs, but employers often do not trust it enough to hire workers just on the strength of that, without experience (The Economist, Jan 14th, 2017)
More and more companies do not require people to have a degree. (i.e. IBM’s non- degree recruits figure has reached 15%). Other massive companies that no longer require candidates to have a four-year degree include Google, Apple, Starbucks, and IBM. (ICEF Monitor, 2019)
McKinsey (2014): Less than half of employers are satisfied by their workforce’s skill levels; (Survey involving over 5000 youth and 2500 employers)
Pew Research center (2016): Only 16% of Americans think that a 4 year degree course prepares students very well for a high paying job in the modern economy…Roughly a third of adults (35%) say it should be to help individuals grow personally and intellectually, while 50% say it should be to teach job-related skills.
Craig, UVF, (2016 & 2018): There is a rise in “intermediaries” that serve as a booster for employability and fills the gap between Universities and the workplace. These organizations are being funded by large corporations. – There is a rise of the “anti-credential” (college degree) while enrollment declines continue and employers are becoming more and more open to non-degree holders (A New U, 2018)
4. How are Corporations confronting the problem?
To solve the above problem, corporations have already taken on the role of educating their new joiners and recent graduates through the development of their own academies and corporate universities (in many cases). In essence, corporations are becoming more involved in taking on the responsibility of grooming and educating graduates so as to fill in the void left by the university in hard and soft areas. This is one reason why money is spent in delivering professional qualifications such as the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) or others (in the consulting world) or technical qualifications created by the organizations themselves (i.e. SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, CISCO, Ericsson, GE and many others).
Therefore, the corporations are actively involved in training their own employees but also the market at large utilizing experts from within the organization AND from the market at large. These corporations are also working with professional associations to match global association benchmarks and focus on their competency frameworks which include soft and hard skills.
Training is delivered by people who actually practice what they ‘peach’. Individuals who are actively consulting businesses or work for businesses in the respective position of the area they are training in. Therefore, you have entrepreneurs delivering entrepreneurship and talking about ‘real” problems entrepreneurs have; how and why they lost and made money; Active marketers delivering courses on how to prepare a marketing plan in the digital age and how to create content and how to use social media effectively; Project Managers that actively plan, control an deliver projects; Accountants that actually prepare integrated reports with environmental and social KPI’s and have to meet strict deadlines for reporting and working with auditors that require compliance and regulatory benchmarks; Innovators who have ‘innovated’ and People Managers that deal with talent on a daily basis. HR managers that deal with issues of engagement, attrition, building skills and other extremely important areas of the business.
The question therefore that arises is: Wouldn’t you want to be taught by someone who is actually DOING what they are talking about?
5. Case Study: PwC’s Award Winning Mini MBA
One of the best examples of a successful corporate programme that answers a number of the issues raised and that has really been beneficial for PwC and its clients is PwC’s Mini MBA. Being offered in over a dozen countries globally at this point to the market at large (2019), it is practical, delivered by active professionals, based on a constantly updated curriculum and uses a unique flowchart methodology. The programme’s flowchart provides a ‘holistic’ approach for business acumen. It helps with business planning and helps candidates on their thinking process as they can always refer to it and see the relevant areas while understanding their role in their organization. Imagine a google map of an area where you can see all the streets and landmarks where you can zoom in and out of. Above all, it provides a one page picture of what goes on in a business and assists in grouping business models that could be useful when evaluating certain areas. Furthermore, it attempts to tackle and link the soft skills issues raised in this article in a practical way through activities, networking, presenting and actually ‘doing’ instead of understanding the theory. The recent (May 2019) PwC Mini MBA Silver Boussias Award in Greece reinforces the points raised.
What’s next? Maybe a global corporate Academy ranking? Or maybe University – Corporation Partnerships for the development of jointly delivered programmes?
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