Business Schools Increase Focus on Workplace Preparedness, Global Competence

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Business school administrators have heard the complaints: Newly minted college graduates don’t make the grade when it comes to their first job.

Employers lament that students lack soft skills like communication and real world experience and have difficulty working with others who are different from them.

[Above: Richard S. Igwike (second from left), chair of business administration and interim dean of the College of Business at Dillard University, with Dillard business school students]

A 2014 study by Bentley University gave recent graduates a “C” for their workplace preparedness. And a study released in January by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) that surveyed employers and college students about career preparation found students felt they were far more prepared than employers believed they were.

The study also highlighted the importance of working with diverse people before entering the workforce; the lack of such experience among students was a serious weakness in employers’ eyes. Only 21 percent of employers felt students had enough awareness of and involvement with diverse cultures in the U.S.; for their exposure to international cultures, that figure dropped to 18 percent.

From small colleges to large universities, at both the undergraduate and MBA levels, administrators say changes are underway to address these criticisms and better prepare students for a global workforce.

Expanding Horizons
When students enter the MBA program at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in Durham, N.C., they are immediately assigned to a diverse team prescribed across all core classes for the first three terms, says Russ Morgan, associate dean of the MBA program.

Duke’s MBA class is made up of roughly 35 percent female, 40 percent international, 21 percent minority, and 9 percent underrepresented minority students.

“We have substantial diversity. This is an intentional process,” Morgan says. “The idea is that you will frequently end up in an environment where you don’t select your teammates. … [And you must figure things out] — what are our goals, what are the trade-offs, and how will we rectify those? Every group will have some issues as it develops and becomes a high-functioning team, and we want to see how they move through the process.”

Nearly 1,000 miles away, in Springfield, Mo. — a city that is 91 percent white — that global perspective is also valued.

At Drury University’s Breech School of Business Administration, a study abroad component is mandatory for undergraduate and MBA students, according to Dean Robin Sronce. Students can choose from one of three study abroad options: a one-week, three-week, or semester-long experience — the three-week trip being the most popular. Sronce says that students usually return home with an appreciation for different cultures.

For Ashlynn Stith, a Drury senior who graduates in December, studying abroad was an invaluable experience; she spent the summer of 2014 in Rome, where her coursework focused on history, culture, religion, and the way modern-day Rome had been dealing with an influx of immigrants.

“One of my classes looked at how minority groups are moving into this heavily Christian-influenced part of the world, what sort of issues that brings about for the people living there and those moving there,” Stith says. “Being open to different views is something I built on last summer while abroad — and also, at Drury, we have a lot of international students.”

While international students comprise 24 percent of undergraduate business students at this private liberal arts college in a town of nearly 165,000 people, minorities make up only 6 percent of the student population. However, the university and business school continue to work to recruit more underrepresented students.

In Massachusetts, Brandeis International Business School in Waltham is also attempting to broaden students’ global perspective. This year, the school is launching a “global job trek,” a program that takes students to major U.S. and international destinations where they engage with industry leaders at corporations.

“We are going to Hong Kong and several other cities,” says Micha Sabovik, executive director of student enrollment and success at Brandeis. “We are leveraging our alumni and contacts we have in that area to go on site visits, explore different companies, and create networking opportunities for

In spring 2015, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Chicago launched an International Growth Lab, which pairs students in Chicago with students at ESADE Business and Law School in Barcelona and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Anise Wiley-Little, chief human capital and diversity officer at Kellogg, says that, through this elective course, students collaborate across continents and time zones and work directly with senior management teams to develop market-based growth strategies for international organizations. While it is not a required course, International Growth Lab emphasizes communication, creativity, and collaboration and provides real work experience. In addition, it gives students a better understanding of the global market and how to work within it.

At Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, one of the goals of the W. P. Carey School of Business is to recruit more minorities into the program so that students are exposed to working with others from underrepresented populations.

According to Kay Faris, senior associate dean of academic programs for the business school, these efforts include the Fleischer Scholars Program.

This weeklong summer program targets economically disadvantaged students between their junior and senior years of high school. They stay in residence halls at the university while learning business skills, how to fill out a college application, and more.

The university offers a similar program that reaches out to underrepresented high school students to introduce them to accounting.

The numbers prove that ASU’s efforts are beginning to pay off. The business school saw a 6.4 percent increase in the number of underrepresented minority students from 2004 to 2014, and these students currently make up 28.4 percent of the student body.

Sharpening Soft Skills
In response to employers’ criticism that students lack soft skills, the business department at ASU is kicking off a new leadership certificate, which students can earn in addition to their degree.

The certificate requires 15 hours of coursework — including team-building, leadership, and cultural coursework. In addition, students must complete an approved internship; hold an approved leadership position on an executive board with an ASU club; hold a leadership role in the business school, such as a business ambassador; and either complete an ASU-affiliated study abroad program or 75 hours of service learning or community service.

To address similar soft skills issues, Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa., has implemented a mandatory course for undergraduate and graduate students in the university’s Fox School of Business, according to Corinne Snell, assistant dean for student professional development at the business school and executive director of the Center for Student Professional Development (CSPD).

“Essentially what we are doing is coaching, preparing students for the business world in terms of polish, professionalism, business etiquette, ethics, job search, soft skills, etc.,” Snell says.

In addition, the CSPD offers one-hour workshops in which students can sharpen their soft skills; this workshop is required of students who wish to apply for an internship or job through the university.

Diana Breslin Knudsen, senior vice dean at Fox School of Business, says that in the school’s last curriculum revision, it added a business communication course taught by business faculty. “We are trying to make sure that before they graduate, their skills are at the level they need to be for an employer,” Breslin Knudsen says.

At Dillard University — a historically black college in New Orleans — Richard S. Igwike, chair of business administration and interim dean of the College of Business, says teamwork has been a major focus of the school. Since the ’90s, the university has required business faculty to infuse teamwork into every syllabus in every class.

“… We’ve got to work in teams in order to survive, and corporations require [employees] to work in teams,” he says.

Internships are also mandatory for students in Dillard’s business program. “I want them to work with a manager, so a manager will teach them what managers do and how to make decisions,” Igwike says.

For Stith, Drury University’s internship requirement gave her a true sense of what working in the real world is like; she completed hers this summer at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in Bentonville, Ark.

“It’s tough to imagine, in any field of study, what a career looks like. That internship experience for me was the moment when I realized this is what a corporate environment feels like,” Stith says. “I worked with other interns who were international [students], but the full-time associates [were] such a diverse group because they bring people in from all over the world. It was a great experience.”●

Juliana Goodwin is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity