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.
Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against keeping these yearly pacts. CNN recently reported that in 2004, nearly 30 percent of "resolutioners" did not stay on track through February, and only 20 percent of the 12,000 respondents kept their resolutions for six months.
Why are sustained resolutions more elusive than an available cash register the day after Thanksgiving? Often, it is the types of goals set. They, like so many flawed business plans, tend to be more focused on results than on implementation.
Getting ahead by going back -- to school
Working adults should make their professional resolutions a reality by going back to school.
A number of universities now enable educational achievement by offering flexible course options. Most important, they focus on applicable, real-world business situations to develop a more successful learning environment for busy adults.
The following are tips on how to keep one of the most important personal promises you'll ever make -- to further your education.
* Stay focused. While fear of the unknown is normal, do not misinterpret it as a signal to not pursue an education. Personal and professional growth rarely occurs without the presence of anxiety and doubt. Remember that this is a life-altering choice and will take quite a bit of finesse and planning.
* Master time management. For working adults pursuing degrees, time management is an art form. Day organizers, weekly action plans and monthly calendars help efficiently maximize your time and establish an effective routine.
* Make prioritizing a priority. All the to-do lists in the world are not going to help if you don't strategically organize your tasks based on importance and deadlines. Start by setting sustainable mini-goals when tackling large projects and focus on immediate tasks to avoid being intimidated by the big picture. Most important, avoid procrastination.
* Seek supervisor support. Explain to your managers your reasoning for going back to school and how it will potentially benefit the company. Many supervisors will help you plan a more flexible work schedule. Plus, they might offer to help financially or know of a corporate program that provides student loans. If you are a supervisor, be open to such propositions and remain aware of the value of a highly educated work force.
* Get wired. In the past, staying wired meant drinking large amounts of coffee when pulling an all-night study session, but not any more. From electronic organizers to online learning tools, the digital world is revolutionizing how time-crunched professionals manage their hectic workload. Many schools now offer Internet-based textbooks and provide a plethora of instructional modules online. These tools enable students to delve deeper into the subjects they are studying, molding them into intentional learners.
* Make an educated decision. The No. 1 mistake adult students make is enrolling in a program that does not mesh with their lifestyle. Look for a school that caters to working professionals, preferably by offering night and weekend courses while utilizing online learning options.
If you want to make your professional New Year's resolution into a realution, these tips should be a helpful starting point. Remember, the best way to turn over a new leaf this year might be by turning the pages of a course catalog at a university near you.
Simon Lumley is vice-president of Indiana operations and Indianapolis campus director for the University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix offers accessible higher education options uniquely tailored for Indianapolis' working business professionals. Contact him at (317) 585-8610 or email@example.com. For more information log onto www.phoenix.edu
However, for those looking to get ahead in business and improve their professional skills, the chiming of school bells might be a more appropriate dream than the nostalgic ringing of the neighborhood ice cream truck.
Many colleges in Indiana offer summer courses for adults, where you can learn everything from yoga to yodeling. It's a great way to meet new people and learn skills that you may not have time to study during the rest of the year.
While many schools offer individual courses, others provide the opportunity to begin earning your degree during the summer. Oftentimes, students find it easiest to enroll before the fall rush begins, gradually easing into their studies.
Because summer is a popular vacation season, summer school may not have been an option for adults in years past. However, many colleges now offer ways to combine in-class and online learning, making it possible to log on and conduct your coursework over the Internet.
Rather than reading your mass-market popular fiction paperback at the beach, you could log onto your laptop and begin working your way through a management degree. Or, after you've sputtered through the Redwoods or past Old Faithful in your family's trusty minivan, you can log on for a quick economics lesson in your hotel room (and perhaps pick up a few vacation budgeting tips along the way).
That may not sound like a vacation to some people, and summer courses may not be for everyone. However, many universities offer concentrated courses that meet just one night a week, leaving you with six more nights to enjoy your free time.
So, why should you begin your education this summer? Here are a few of the tangible benefits.
* Knowledge you can apply on the job. At many of today's forward-thinking universities, you'll study more than just theories; you'll be able to focus on how they are applied in the real world.
Students are encouraged to discuss the problems that instructors and classmates face in their jobs, often presenting solutions that can be tested on the job the following day.
* Networking. Because classes for working adults are typically filled with professionals, summer courses are a great way to boost your networking skills. Chances are you'll meet classmates from a wide range of industries with a common goal of self-improvement through education.
* Career advancement. Studies continue to show that higher degrees equal higher paychecks. New information from the U.S. Census Bureau reinforces the value of a college education: Workers 18 and older with a high school diploma earn $27,915, while those with a bachelor's degree earn almost double -- an average of $51,206 a year. Workers with an advanced degree do even better, making an average of $74,602.
In a competitive job market, employers are searching for characteristics that set you apart from other applicants for hire or promotion. A higher degree is a great way to make that distinction.
So, as you listen to the sounds of summer in your neighborhood -- crickets chirping outside and late night baseball games on the radio -- think about spending one evening a week investing in your future by earning a higher degree. It may make those lazy days of summer a bit more meaningful.
Simon Lumley is vice president of Indiana operations and Indianapolis Campus Director for University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix offers accessible higher education options uniquely tailored for Indianapolis' working business professionals. Reach him at (317) 585-8610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, log onto www.phoenix.edu/Indianapolis.
It's 5:00 p.m. and you are forced to make a difficult choice. Do you stay late another night and finish up your project, or do you leave for home and bring your work with you? For a large number of Indianapolis professionals and small business owners, it isn't a pleasant choice. Yet, it is one they make every day. The increasing crush of e-mail, voicemail and meetings lead to an onslaught of daytime distractions that make it impossible to work.
Add to that the proliferation of new gadgets hitting store shelves each month, and the option to work anytime, anywhere becomes less of a luxury and more of a burden. Employers and clients have become used to -- and sometimes expect -- replies to late night e-mails and weekend phone calls.
So, how can you avoid the trap of staying late at the office or allowing your work to creep home with you? There is no single solution. However, there are a few key practices that can help.
Give your inbox a break. Many of us have an irresistible urge to check our e-mail the moment that we hear the familiar chime. However, if you're in the middle of a project and are constantly checking e-mail, it can throw your schedule into a tailspin. Try turning off your e-mail for part of the day. It may only be for an hour, but this will allow you to focus on what's important. If your employees or clients expect instant responses, let them know you are using a new time management strategy and will respond to their e-mail within two to three hours, or later in the day.
Master your phone. With the invention of voicemail and caller ID, it's become easier to decide whether you want to take a call. However, many workers still can't resist the urge to pick up on the first ring, no matter who is calling. In most cases, there is nothing wrong with screening your calls if you are in the middle of a busy project. Let your callers leave a voicemail message, then dedicate a particular time of day to return messages. If you return messages in bulk, it will be much faster and more efficient. You might even alert callers on your voicemail that you return calls between certain hours or times of the day.
Cut the chitchat. While it's great to converse with your employees and clients, you must also set the stage for productivity in your workplace. We all know about those chatty coworkers who take water cooler talk well beyond the water cooler. If you are fortunate enough to have your own office, don't be afraid to shut the door when you're swamped. Put up a sign alerting employees that you are on deadline and can only be interrupted in emergencies. If you work in an open environment, place a sign on the back of your chair and let coworkers know you simply cannot talk until your project is complete.
Keep your home and work lives separate. It's difficult for small business owners to avoid taking work home, but make sure you set clear boundaries between the two. Exercise or pursue a favorite hobby. Dedicate a "family night" one evening a week. Or, consider going back to school. Several colleges in Indianapolis offer night and weekend classes that cater to working parents. Do everything possible to set a firm time for your free time.
While not everyone may be able to implement all of these strategies, they are good starting points. By taking a close look at your time management, you can reduce your work time and start enjoying your free time.
Simon Lumley is vice-president of Indiana operations and Indianapolis campus director for the University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix offers accessible higher education options uniquely tailored for Indianapolis' working business professionals. For more information log onto www.phoenix.edu. Have other time-saving or organizational tools? Share them with Lumley at email@example.com or 317-585-8610.
If you stop by a coffeehouse in Bloomington, you'll still find plenty of students surrounded by textbooks and cramming for final exams. However, this scene may not be the same a few years from now.
More and more students are turning to a diverse range of electronic tools -- what educators are calling next-generation education. That means that rather than traditional textbooks, students use electronic books and other technologies, making them intentional learners. These tech-savvy students are able to effectively sort through the onslaught of information available in the 21st century and become critical thinkers, adept at discerning which information will help them the most in their academic, professional and personal lives.
Beyond the eLibrary and an eBook collection, there are several additional tools that are further encouraging students to become intentional learners at universities around Indianapolis.
In our global economy, the need for workers with critical thinking and problem-solving skills is greater than ever. Using interactive simulations and virtual organizations, students are presented with real-world, professional scenarios that resemble a high-tech "choose-your-own-adventure" book. These simulations require students to define problems and analyze, recommend and defend their solutions.
Computer-based interactive game and story simulations help students to make decisions in a learning environment and receive immediate feedback. The simulations adapt to the skill level of the learner, and participants may repeat the simulations using a variety of scenarios to determine the best outcome. This ability to determine "what if" in a risk-free environment encourages exploration and learning.
Many universities now realize that in order for students to make real-world decisions, they will need to rely on realistic data. Through programs such as "Virtual Organizations," students are able to view mock company Internet and intranet sites.
These Web sites give students access to hypothetical company data, such as links to financial and other administrative documents. This allows students to analyze the types of documents that would normally be considered privileged information in real companies, encouraging participants to think critically and resourcefully to solve problems with proprietary or confidential data.
Improving writing skills
One of the most important skills to any employer is the ability to communicate. More colleges and universities are realizing this and providing new ways to improve skills in this area. Colleges are giving students access to a variety of interactive Web-based tutorials, writing samples, style guides and instructional handouts from the American Psychological Association and the Modern Language Association.
Some students can upload assigned papers for review by experienced writing skills instructors and have them returned with feedback for format, grammar, style, organization, punctuation and usage within 48 hours. Comment on course content is left to the primary instructor.
Cracking down on plagiarism
As the influence of technology spreads, schools are becoming more sophisticated about checking for plagiarism in papers. Many are exploring automated systems that compare academic papers to materials found on the Web and a database of previously-submitted papers.
These types of programs review the originality of the content. In some cases, there is even the option of a side-by-side comparison to similar materials found in other sources.
The goal of educators should be to focus on developing graduates who are able to bridge academic theory with practical application. Universities must provide the employers of Indiana with graduates who are not afraid of technology but are able to openly maximize its benefits.
Simon Lumley is vice president of Indiana operations and Indianapolis Campus Director for the University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix offers accessible higher education options uniquely tailored for Indianapolis' working business professionals. Reach Lumley at (317) 585-8610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information log onto www.phoenix.edu/Indianapolis.
A new survey by University of Phoenix confirms that technical skills are important, but they are not the most important asset to employers.
The survey polled 330 employers in health care, education, technology and other high-growth sectors identified by the U.S. Department of Labor around the Midwest and across the nation.
In their responses, executives stated the most important skills needed to succeed in today's workplace are communication (96 percent), followed by learning aptitude/desire to grow (95 percent), collaboration and teamwork (93 percent) and creative problem-solving (92 percent).
As the hub of Indiana and a major player in the Midwest, the Indianapolis region's economy is based on advanced manufacturing, logistics/distribution, information technology, life sciences and sports industries. All of these industries -- even manufacturing --increasingly rely on improved communications and teamwork skills, making it important for Indianapolis employees to stay current in these areas.
The data also show that there is a real concern among employers about finding qualified employees. Nearly three-quarters of employers surveyed -- 74 percent -- expect continued growth for jobs in their respective industries, but 65 percent of those polled also cited a shortage of skilled candidates to fill these anticipated positions.
So, what does all of this data mean to the average Indianapolis employee? It should encourage you to pursue your goals of an advanced education. Fifty-one percent of those surveyed favor continuous improvement and updating of skills through education and training. If you've been in the same job for several years and are considering a career change, you'll need to be up-to-date on the latest skills, trends and communication styles.
When you select a school, make sure the curriculum is current and the style of learning is relevant. Make sure classes are taught by instructors who are all experts currently working in their field of expertise.
And, check to see that faculty members are not just discussing theories, but that they also have firsthand knowledge of how those theories are applied in the workplace. That translates into a relevant education that you can apply on the job and use in your next career move or promotion.
Increasingly, employers are recognizing the benefits of continuing education. According to the survey, nearly 57 percent of the respondents offer tuition reimbursement to employees seeking to enhance their skills. That number appears to have grown in recent years, as more positions require specialized education. In addition, tuition reimbursement is an effective way to retain quality employees, a major concern among employers in the study.
With colleges now focusing more on practical application of theory, education can improve everyone's communication and teamwork skills. In today's changing workplace, those skills are invaluable to both employers and their employees.
Simon Lumley is vice president of Indiana operations and Indianapolis campus director for the University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix offers accessible higher education options uniquely tailored to Indianapolis' working business professionals. Reach Lumley at (317) 585-8610 or email@example.com. For more information, log on to www.phoenix.edu.
Regardless of an organization's mantra or aspirations, as it succeeds, its work force will inevitably grow and leaders will begin to emerge. In order to realize future profit targets, successful firms must work to not only retain their current employees but also to enhance the skill set of their personnel.
Far too often, managers focus on the present value of their staff rather than assessing future returns from investment in their work force. By offering education assistance programs for loyal employees, businesses can amplify their core competencies and lock in potential profits.
The American Society of Training and Development found that investing in employee training and education may pay dividends for private and publicly held firms in just a few years. In fact, based on research conducted on publicly held firms between 1996 and 1998, the group concluded that increasing education-based expenditures by $680 per employee yielded an average 6 percent improvement in share-holder return.
Although internal training is a must for most companies, the added benefits of higher education for employees has some businesses sending the best and brightest back to class. Moreover, company-directed instruction may actually translate to credits toward a higher education degree. A growing number of organizations are partnering with learning institutions to develop training programs tailored to specific industries or skill sets relevant to their business.
Whether to complete an unfinished undergraduate degree or to attain the knowledge and status that come with an MBA, higher education remains paramount to continued professional success for employees and the organizations for which they work.
Benefits of providing higher education assistance
From increasing productivity to reducing turnover, there are numerous motivators for businesses to offer and encourage education assistance programs.
* Applicable knowledge. While pursuing a degree, employees can master a range of pertinent skills and are exposed to emerging strategies, trends and models for success that may not be currently utilized by their organization. Many of today's forward-thinking universities focus on working adult learners by providing real-world applications that are relevant on the job the following day.
* Efficiency. By enabling employees to further their education outside the confines of their company structure, managers are reducing the time investment that goes into organizing, implementing and monitoring the instructional process.
* Employee retention. Managers can show their long-term dedication to their team by supporting an employee's educational aspirations. Although economic downturn has seen businesses of all sizes scale back benefits and perks, savvy firms know that key programs like education assistance are valued by employees and end up benefiting the employer.
* Credibility. While company-specific accreditations and training certificates are important measures of achievement within an organization or specific industry, it is human nature for potential clients and fellow employees to hold those with accredited degrees in higher esteem.
* Perspective. Many schools focus on collaborative learning between students and instructors, thus stimulating education based on ideas and experiences from dramatically different industries. By working with a diverse group of peers, adult learners gain valuable new perspectives and can apply these insights to their jobs immediately.
* Flexibility. Nontraditional universities enable working professionals to earn degrees more efficiently by offering manageable course loads and convenient night, evening and online courses. This new trend allows employees to attend classes without missing a day of work.
* Networking. Since classes for today's working adults are typically filled with fellow professionals, it is not uncommon for key business leads or strategic alliances to develop as a result of a collaborative project or regular study group.
There are a number of emerging universities in the Indianapolis area designed specifically for working professionals that can meet any company's educational needs. By utilizing these institutions to invest in their employees, businesses can give themselves an edge well into the future.
Simon Lumley is vice president of Indiana operations and Indianapolis campus director for the University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix offers accessible higher education options uniquely tailored for Indianapolis' working business professionals. Reach Lumley at (317) 585-8610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit www.phoenix.edu.
Because the university focuses on educating working professionals, we strive daily to ensure the knowledge our students gain in the classroom applies directly to practical situations in the workplace. Our curriculum is relevant to the modern business environment thanks in part to our utilization of cutting-edge educational technologies.
Evolution of business and education
Seasoned business managers will attest that embracing technology is one of the keys to future success and prolonged growth in the professional world. And just as today's business environment dictates a need for tech-savvy employees, so, too, does the higher education system call for tech-savvy students.
Here are a few examples of how technology is making an impact on the higher education system.
* Page turning is out, scrolling is in. By using digital programs and database tools, schools can now provide students with advanced learning systems far superior to a standard textbook. University of Phoenix has created its own program, rEsource, which enables students to explore and use a wide array of scholarly and professional sources from a single operating system.
Such programs not only provide vast amounts of applicable data but also enable users to develop a competency in information dissemination. Students become more "intentional learners" as they are required to access, organize and draw upon digital learning resources in the same ways that professional practice now requires.
* Rich media can lead to student prosperity. Although business simulations have been a proven learning tool for years, the multimedia and interactive capabilities of today's integrated systems have brought digital simulations to a new plateau. Slick new programs allow users to put their personal business theory to work in highly advanced adaptations of professional situations.
* "Write" click. Regardless of a student's chosen course of study, developing a proficient writing style is an important part of the learning process. More to the point, it's an essential skill in the business world. The advent of word processing programs and the proliferation of grammar and spell checker have changed the dynamics of proofreading.
Computers can now understand data as it is imputed, analyze how it is used and give feedback based on the resulting content. Some schools even offer services allowing students to upload course-assigned papers for review and have them returned with feedback on format, grammar and style.
* Online education with class. The evolution of online learning is possibly the largest impact of technology on the educational system. Most all higher educational institutions offer some form of distance learning programs.
Some, however, take that concept one step further by offering a combination of in-class and online learning. In these programs, students attend the first and last class at a local learning center, where they meet their instructor and classmates. They then conduct the remainder of their course online. These programs bring structure to online learning while adding a level of flexibility for working adults who are typically "scheduley challenged."
We have heard the lingo of typical student-to-teacher interaction change dramatically over the past 15 years, from course packets to multimedia CDs, overhead projectors to Digital Smart Boards, typewritten memos to e-mail, and notebooks to Personal Digital Assistants. While there tends to be initial resistance among more traditional academics, such advancements bring numerous new opportunities for learning and an increase in educational accessibility.
Undoubtedly, technology helps students become more effective learners and, ultimately, more marketable to their employers.
Simon Lumley is vice president of Indiana operations and Indianapolis campus director for the University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix offers accessible higher education options uniquely tailored for Indianapolis' working business professionals. Reach him at (317) 585-8610 or email@example.com. For more information, log onto www.phoenix.edu.
On top of her aforementioned professional and personal responsibilities, she also instructs adult learners at the University of Phoenix. She eagerly spends evenings on campus interacting with students and teaching Organizational Behavior and Management to the working professionals of Indianapolis.
For many like Sheryl, the urge to teach does not stem from a need for added income or another resume bullet point; rather, they take pride in enabling others to succeed. And she sees her teaching as a way to stay abreast of current issues in health care management while building her knowledge of business theory.
Responding to shifts in student demographics
Fortunately for adults looking to earn a bachelor's degree, instructors such as Sheryl are finding that many colleges now cater to faculty with full-time jobs. In fact, working faculty practitioners are in high demand due to a fundamental change in the dynamics of post-secondary education.
The definition of a traditional college student is under revision thanks to the growing number of adult learners embracing the promise of new career opportunities through higher education. According to a 2002 report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, only 27 percent of college students fall within the 18- to 22-year-old age range.
Based on this, learning institutions are focusing on students who have schedules filled with business meetings and carpool obligations instead of fraternity parties and road trips.
Working professionals are more demanding of service, curriculum and instruction than traditional college students, and they generally take a different approach to education. Most adult learners are not receptive to lecture-focused, "direct your questions to my teaching assistants because I have research to finish" style instruction.
Instead, they thrive in intimate open-discussion classroom sessions in which students volley ideas and opinions among one another and learn from the professional experiences of their peers.
Because working adults are filling college classrooms at near-record rates, colleges are seeking accomplished working professionals to serve as instructors. Practitioners with the appropriate academic credentials can offer expertise according to their experience, while allowing for more peer-to-peer learning.
Educators with a blend of advanced academic preparation in their field and significant practical experience are able to credibly facilitate the marriage of theory and practice in the classroom. As professionals and instructors, they deal with emerging industry trends daily and develop lessons plans that are significant to the current marketplace.
Most important, this information is based on local practices, which ensures that classroom discussions are relevant and strategies can be applied the following day.
Change lives, starting with your own
For most educated business professionals who balance full work schedules and a personal life, the prospect of being a part-time instructor may seem daunting. However, changes in educational systems have made teaching schedules much more manageable.
Since adult students are just as busy with their professional lives as their learning practitioners, forward-thinking institutions are offering flexible evening courses, weekend sessions and even the possibility of partially instructing classes through online correspondence.
Business instructors find that teaching significantly improves their work IQ because they are regularly exposed to the latest industry strategies and theories as a part of their lesson plans. Few would disagree that one of the best ways to learn is by teaching. More to the point, faculty members typically find themselves practicing what they preach in order to provide applicable real-life insight to their students.
Take a moment and explore how teaching can benefit you personally and professionally. As Sheryl Joyner will attest, although the immediate reward of teaching is helping others grow and succeed, you might be surprised at how much you learn from the experience.
Simon Lumley is vice president of Indiana operations and Indianapolis campus director for the University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix offers accessible higher education options uniquely tailored for Indianapolis' working business professionals. Reach him at (317) 585-8610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information log onto www.phoenix.edu.