How To Prepare Business Students For The New Economy

4 min read

G. John Cole

The European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) is holding its annual conference from 6-8 June in Copenhagen, Denmark, under the theme of Education 4.0: New Jobs, New Skills, New Education.

Like any upgrade with a ‘dot’ in it, Education 4.0 is an opportunity to build on the solid foundations of what’s come before while mixing things up with forward-thinking technological innovation and a keen eye on the socio-economic trends of our time.

What to expect from the new economy

New jobs, skills, and education go hand-in-hand with a new economy. The latter is a phrase that has been bandied about for a couple of decades now – and it’s finally coming to fruition as new high-growth, high-tech industries take the reins of GDP growth and drive it forward.

This progression from a product economy to a service economy, alongside the all-consuming power of the internet, has changed the way we work, the way we live, and even the way that money functions in our society. The blossoming of the experience economy sees us spending our earnings at restaurants and events rather than stores, buying memories rather than objects.

And artificial intelligence is all set to change the working landscape once more, as the internet did before it. More and more of our professional life and leisure time will be automated and regulated by sophisticated algorithms, freeing us to use our time and money in new ways – but also monetizing the 21st-century experience in a manner that requires ongoing scrutiny.

Today’s business schools have a responsibility to prepare their students for tomorrow’s challenges – and prospective students will flock to those institutions that do so.

How to make sure business students are ready for it

The rise of the internet and the decline of the job-for-life mean that more than ever, young entrepreneurs require freelancing skills that are relevant to the gig economy. Freelancers are predicted to account for 43% of the workforce by 2020 – up from just 6% in 1989. Training needs to cover everything from the ‘public’ face of networking, pitching, and marketing, to the personal business of paying taxes, managing budgets, and planning for retirement.

The freelance thing is part of a double-pronged need for improved levels of critical thinking, creativity, and emotional intelligence among business graduates – the second prong accounted for by the ‘rise of the robots.' As machines and artificial intelligence relieve us of more and more mechanical tasks, graduates will justify their professional existence by displaying excellence in areas that robots can’t yet touch.

This means that forward-thinking schools at all levels are phasing out rote learning in favor of real-life experiences and an emphasis on problem-solving. More repetitive and technical elements of work such as coding can be picked up and developed in supporting programs, through continued learning in the workplace, and through MOOCs and online degrees that put a different emphasis on face-to-face study time.

Part of this renewed interest in soft skills is to do with the broadening market and increased international business and networking. The world is getting smaller, and that only makes cross-cultural awareness more essential.

Schools are stepping up to this challenge already:

“We provide [students] with a capacity to understand not only the culture but the implications of that culture, the political systems, and the different kinds of interactions that are key to different countries,” reports María de Lourdes Dieck Assad, dean of EGADE Business School in Mexico.

“[Students] need many different forms of intelligence and not just the traditional ones like analytical skills,” agrees Santiago Iñiguez, dean of IE Business School in Madrid. “There are many other forms of intelligence: emotional, spatial, creative, artistic…the challenges are big and we are in the process of facing them.”

In other words, the growing importance of online skills only heightens the need for attention to be paid to real-life, face-to-face interaction.

It’s part of an overdue humanizing of the way that institutions are teaching business and economics  – a shift that puts the emphasis on social accountability and robust morality. Rather than updating a syllabus piecemeal, b-schools can do everybody a favor by taking a long, hard look at their message in general, and bringing it into line with the progressive ethics that define millennials and the generations coming up behind them.

Education 4.0 may have a digital-sounding moniker but, at its heart, it's about developing more rounded, responsible, and imaginative human beings.

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