I recently posted about what makes a good economist and how this might relate to the corporate world. In short, I argued for leaders who relate to the general public and that think, feel and listen to the world around them. Related to this I want to explore what type of education best facilitates a good corporate leader by posing the question – should universities train doers or thinkers?
One way to provoke thought on this may be to explore what a university education may look like if completely geared to produce workers. Below are some possible outcomes if university degrees catered completely to industry demand for workers:
- no more faculty of arts, maths, science, commerce. Replaced by faculties of insert broad job area e.g. education, law, financial services, health services
- no more arts, maths, science or commerce majors. Replaced by majors that relate to the workplace such as management, corporate governance and analysis
- lecturers teach less theory and more workplace skills such as word processing, excel, accounting, leadership, data visualisation, negotiation, forecasting
- classes are offered outside of business hours to cater for students that take on internships
- more assignments and less tests. Assignments tied to real world examples or real world problems given as assignments with a focus on client feedback/satisfaction not grades
- job prospects increasingly tied to internships. And the number of university places determined largely by industry demand.
Reflecting on the above list some of them actually do seem to mirror what is happening. Universities are becoming more flexible with their hours, they are teaching more skills based courses and you generally have a better chance of getting a job at a place you intern at.
On reflection, it is also pretty obvious that a complete catering to industry demand for workers would not be a good idea. For example, how do you train workers for the jobs of the future, the ones we do not yet know about? Can we rely on private research for breakthroughs in our theoretical understanding and scientific knowledge of the world?
Getting back to a leader who thinks, feels and listens to the world around them. What can universities do? Not a whole lot in some ways. For one they cannot predict who the leaders of the future will be. Nor can they provide them with concrete experience or examples of every situation they may be faced with.
In my opinion what universities can do is create an environment that gives people the best chance to be a good leader. Teach industry relevant skills up and until a point. But, protect enough space for students to explore different conceptual frameworks, or ways of thinking, and challenge them by example or through exposure to the diversity of interests, thoughts and people within a university campus. After all, the workplace can fill in gaps in skills but it is less likely to be able to expand your thinking.
In other words universities should train people who can step into the workforce able to do (to some extent). However, they should ensure that they also train these same people with the capacity to think, and therefore grow as they grapple with the uncertainty and diversity inherent to the real world.