Throughout their education, they are thrown a wide variety of scenarios and asked to identify possible solutions. From human resource issues to production dilemmas, simulations have been a part of the educational landscape for quite some time.
However, there is an emerging need that is only being addressed by a small number of new business programs. This need doesn’t center on solving problems but rather on identifying them.
In today’s fast-paced work environment, it is rare that a problem is identified by a label. For example, an employee usually doesn’t say “I have a PR problem that I need solved.” Instead, the problem may originate with an accounting error that also affects the supply chain, marketing and new product development divisions. Eventually, it snowballs into a PR disaster.
The skills needed to identify the problem are among the most important skills in the business world. Yet, until now, the higher education community has failed to recognize this need. Rather than offer prepackaged scenarios in neat, concise simulations, business schools are now realizing they must train workers for the real world, when problems often start with a simple e-mail, phone call or memo.
Some schools are developing new curriculum to address this reality. New MBA programs focus on properly identifying problems so they can be solved more effectively. These degrees, sometimes called Next Generation MBAs, are the result of a strenuous reassessment of educational tactics and hours spent with several Fortune 1000 companies, listening to their concerns. The result is a hefty volume of real-world scenarios that are presented in advanced simulations. These scenarios allow students to make realistic decisions, just as they would in the workplace.
Similar programs may communicate mock business environments using a series of e-mails, personal conversations and meetings with the students. Just as in the business world, different students or learning teams may come up with different problems and solutions. They must then create and defend their assessments.
If a team misidentifies a problem and begins an ill-advised solution, it is not given the opportunity to start from scratch. Instead, it must move forward with the consequences of the decision and make a better choice for the following quarter or year. This accurately simulates the real-world business experience, where there are no second takes.
Because of this “no second takes” reality, strong judgment and problem-solving capabilities are among the skills in most demand in the workplace. In fact, a recent University of Phoenix survey of employers in America’s fastest-growing industries revealed that while technical skills are valuable, critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills are the most important in the workplace. Employers are looking for team players who also possess strong learning aptitude.
We have several high-caliber employers in Indiana with demanding job requirements. They have come to rely on top-notch employees who can meet their business needs. In this environment, the only way to continue to provide qualified employees for these businesses and attract new businesses is to change our way of teaching and training tomorrow’s graduates.
This paradigm shift involves every step of problem-solving, including identifying the problem. Only by properly assessing each situation can our work force
be truly adept at handling the modern-day problems faced by our ever-changing business environment.
SIMON LUMLEY is vice president of Indiana operations and campus director for University of Phoenix Indianapolis. The university offers accessible higher education options uniquely tailored to Indianapolis’ working business professionals. For more information, log onto www.phoenix.edu/indianapolis.