I REMEMBER chanting in the playground: "God made bees, bees make honey, we do the work, and the teachers get the money." There is a kernel of truth there because teachers can be said to be the archetype of managers. They fulfil Peter Drucker's classic definition of a manager as "someone who achieves his or her objectives through other people's hands and minds".
Nevertheless, when graduates say they are interested in a career in management, it is pretty certain that they do not mean teaching - or social work, or the police, or law, or even the Civil Service - though management skills are increasingly important in all these areas.
What is less certain is what they do mean. Keith Dugdale, head of the careers service at Strathclyde University, finds that "It tends to be science and engineering students who want `a career leading to management.' " But, though some students are very well-informed, perhaps, for example, through insight into management courses, Mr Dugdale says: "In most cases they don't have a realistic notion of what it means. They see `management' as a level, not an activity."
Martin Duffell of Unilever agrees. "If you ask students what management is, very few have thought it out clearly. They often confuse management consultant with manager. But if you're a manager, being a consultant is the most frustrating thing you can imagine."
In selecting people who can make things happen for the company, Mr Duffell looks for a balance between "how bright they are and how able to motivate other people".
Most employers recruit graduates into direct appointments in specific functional areas. They can be taking real responsibility very soon, but "management" is still a form of shorthand for where they see themselves a few years hence.
If most people aspiring to a career in management instinctively look to the private sector, there has been a sea change in the public sector. …