Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Undergraduate Management Education: Its Place, Purpose and Efforts to Bridge the Skills Gap

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Undergraduate Management Education: Its Place, Purpose and Efforts to Bridge the Skills Gap

Article excerpt


Australian business graduates are deemed by industry as not being 'job ready' (BCA 2006; BIHECC 2007), lacking the skills required to successfully apply disciplinary knowledge and add value to our globalised, knowledge economy. There exists a lack of empirical evidence and professional input for business schools on profiling the attributes valued by industry. This is especially true for those majoring in management who are consistently overshadowed by their more commercially attractive postgraduate counterparts. In a bid to satisfy industry demands, the most common response among Australian business schools are the development of employability skills and enhanced involvement of industry professionals in curricula content and design, both subject to potential failings and criticism. This review of business school efforts to bridge the skills gap also examines the role, function and impact of undergraduate management education, a research area significantly overlooked in recent years.

Keywords: Australia, employability, generic attributes, management competencies, transfer, undergraduate

In order to maintain Australia's recent trends in growth and internationalisation, it is essential that the tertiary education sector continues to support and enhance an appropriately skilled human capital base. Like many other countries, Australia has become a 'knowledge economy' that relies heavily on graduates' ability to work effectively across complex and highly diverse contexts (Marginson 1993). Australia has been relatively complacent on graduate skills development and its economy is now suffering, like others, from skill deficiencies as it struggles to identify the exact nature of the graduate skills gap and how to best manage it. Seemingly one step ahead is the UK which, in recognition of its inability to compete with India and China's cheap labour supply (DIUS, 2008), is focusing heavily on its need to produce more employable graduates. Despite the recent flurry of UK government reports and higher education activity, fundamental flaws inhibit its approach to bridging the graduate skills gap, from which Australia should learn valuable lessons.

This paper aims to summarise the nature of the graduate skills gap in Australia and evaluate the two overarching responses of higher education institutions, both mirroring those pursued in the UK but lagging in their evolution and implementation. In discussion of a more productive pathway, the major issues to be addressed in facilitating business school efforts to successfully foster industry-relevant attributes in management undergraduates are identified. These issues comprise: firstly, the lack of empirical evidence on the current attributes required by industry; the variability in conceptual and operational definitions of the attributes already identified by industry and which feature in current higher education policy and practice; the need to understand the process by which students best transfer their learning from classroom to the workplace, and any major influences on this process; and, finally, the need to understand and differentiate between programs failing to nurture the required attributes and those failing to facilitate the transfer of acquired attributes.

To enrich our perspectives on the graduate skills gap and the assignment of responsibility for its resolution, the purpose of management education is discussed at the outset. Is management education for enhancing higher-order intellectual and moral skills, such as criticism and inquiry, or to facilitate the development of 'job ready' graduates through industry-relevant education and research? This exploration of functional role leads us to reflect on the impact of management undergraduate education on industry and society at large and their reciprocal influence on management education. In this examination of undergraduate management education, the limited empirical evidence and research literature in comparison to that for postgraduate programs, particularly the MBA, is overwhelming. …

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