Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Are Business School Deans and Employers Focused on the Same Graduate Skills?

Businesses want college graduates to be ready to fulfill important functions upon hire. When graduates are not ready this can raise the cost of training and slow down production. Criticism of higher education revolves around the difficulties some schools are having preparing students to take on challenges in the modern business world. A study of perceptions of deans and prospective employers helps show where college administration and business leaders see eye-to-eye and where they diverge.  

Throughout the nation a debate rages about the value of higher education, its costs, and employ-ability of students. We also know that higher education is important to grow innovation and feed the needs of employers so they can fill open positions. There is a natural split between higher education as a vessel of cultural tradition and higher education as training grounds for employment.
That debate isn’t likely to be decided anytime soon. The study helps show that business school deans and employers are not that far off when assessing the importance of certain required skills. Businesses, of course, also had a few ideas but for the most part the two seem to be in the same hemisphere. 

Top Seven Skills by Prospective Employers (In order of importance): responsibility and accountability, interpersonal skills, oral communication, teamwork, ethical values, decision-making and analytical skills, and creativity and critical thinking.

Top Seven Skills by Business School Deans (In order of importance): critical skills/abilities to the organization are oral communication, written communication, interpersonal skills, decision-making, responsibility and accountability, ability to work in teams, and creativity and critical thinking skills.

As you can tell oral communication, responsibility and accountability, interpersonal skills, decision-making, creativity and critical thinking skills were common to both deans and prospective employers. Where they differed was ethical values, analytical skills and critical skills/abilities.

The differences seem to be based in the soft and hard skills. Hard skills are akin to specific job functions that you may find on a job description while soft skills are related more to personality and the ability to work with others. Understanding how to make a chart is an easily measurable skill while having the social abilities to influence stakeholders to accept the meaning of that chart is a little more difficult. Employers lean a little heavier on soft skills while deans focus more on hard skills.

This isn’t particularly odd considering that hard skills are easier to implement into curriculum and easier to assess for successful achievement. For example, someone can either explain compound interest or they can’t. It is more difficult to assess soft skills such as politeness or ethical behavior because these are more situational. Employers will still need to interview and assess needed soft skills themselves. Sometimes they are going to get a great employee and sometimes they won’t. It will be difficult for education to fix this problem but could consider methods of encouraging these behaviors in students. 

Shuayto, N. (2013). Management skills desired by business school deans and employers: an empirical investigation. Business Education & Accreditation, 5 (2).

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