What should you learn at business school?
23 March 2021
Our co-founder Andrew Crisp reflects on how programmes, including the MBA, have favoured particular subjects and skills and asks if we're really considering what the world might look like in the future.
Schools often ask what content they should have in their programmes. For many years, corporate finance was a mainstay of the MBA, and while it remains important fintech has been on the rise in recent years.
Leadership, naturally, remains a core component of many business programmes and generic courses on the business and financial environment topped the list of most valuable content among prospective students in our recent Tomorrow’s MBA study.
With the exception of fintech, it feels like these subjects are largely driven by historical preferences rather than thinking about the world as it is today and maybe in the future. For a prospective student, the first question might be what skills and competencies will employers want in the next few years.
Last year, our study for the Executive MBA Council, ‘A new way of working and learning’, asked employers about which skills were in high demand and which were least available. Leadership was the second most important skill for employers, but it was also the most widely available. No doubt many CVs cross employers desks with demonstrations of leadership ability at their core.
Communication skills were deemed the most important skills for employers, but are also widely available. This doesn’t mean that students shouldn’t study leadership and communication, indeed they are almost pre-requisites for a senior role in business. However, graduates that want to stand out in the labour market and schools that want to attract candidates might want to consider risk management and data analytics and data-driven decision-making. Among employers, both risk management and data analytics are considered as important as leadership, however while 53% of employers indicate that leadership skills are widely available, only 37% and 35% respectively suggest that data analytics and risk management are found often among applicants.
The fifth most important skill identified by employers is managing a multi-generational, diverse workforce; it is also the least widely available, found frequently by only 18% of employers. Employees who can show such a skill are likely to be in demand as workforce diversity grows as people live longer and remain at work later in their lives and as organisations become more diverse.
The perfect employee would appear to be someone who has the technical ability to work with data, who can manage risk, lead and communicate clearly and is as comfortable working with those nearing retirement as they are with those starting their first job. Is there a business school degree programme that delivers all of this? Probably not, but with lifelong learning becoming a reality and staff looking to add in-demand skills to build their employability, there is an opportunity for business schools to build new offers in new markets.