How business schools can prepare students for employability


Business schools have an important role to play in preparing young people for the 21st-century workplace.

It is no longer news that disruptive technologies will be the driving force behind the fourth industrial revolution. In fact, it sounds clichéd to even talk about how the world of work is in a profound state of flux, relentlessly interspersed with major disruptions, and that these developments are shifting business models in all sectors, increasing the pace of change in job destruction and job creation. The reality is that the estimate of global economic returns on this revolution is $16-trillion. Given the sluggish growth in the global economy and recent threats of trade wars among major economies, this projection is big news.

However, given the scale of investment in programmes to prepare students for employability, "graduates will need sufficient skills to ‘de-risk’ new enterprise development initiatives in Africa", as African Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina said.

A cursory glance at the history of global economic development shows us that these revolutions have always been accompanied by job losses, followed by a period of recovery. The challenge with the fourth industrial revolution is that the prognosis for job creation is bleak. The hollowing-out of the middle segment of the labour market is the most serious threat.

Research indicates that, on average, a third of the skills required to perform today’s jobs will be wholly new by 2020. Education and training systems, post-school education in particular, have been static and underinvested in for decades. They are considered largely inadequate for new labour market needs. Criticism that higher education is obsessed with disciplinary knowledge acquisition rather than preparing graduates to be ready to "plug in and play" in the workplace has become more acute in recent years.

It is estimated that 75-million people globally are unemployed and that 50% of young people aren’t convinced their higher education has improved their chances of finding a job. A recent McKinsey report indicates that by 2020 there will be a shortfall of 85-million high-and middle-skilled workers.

Employers demand new standards for what graduates should be able to do, in being able to adapt and innovate in response to changing circumstances. The key shift in industry expectations is for graduates to move from "discipline-specific" expertise to a broad range of skills applicable in different work contexts.

These competencies are hard to find among recent university graduates. This is where business schools can come in. They can be engaged in the development of innovative training and education in transferable skills. These can help bridge the gap between learning and work, and improve graduate job readiness, thus reducing the shortage of skills in the workplace and the frequent education-job mismatch.

To meet these challenges, business education must be transformed in ways that will enable students to acquire the creative thinking, flexible problem-solving, collaboration and innovation skills they need to be successful in work and life.