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Are we teaching the right skills to our graduates?


Minna-Maari Harmaala

Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 25.10.2022

I remember long ago being somewhat fascinated by the thought of “doing things right versus doing the right things”. It’s a thought that tends to ground you into thinking what really is important and what should you focus on. This came to my mind as I started to reflect and think on what are the skills needed in the future of work.

The World Economic Forum listed the top 10 skills of 2025 already two years ago in 2020. These 10 skills are divided into four different categories: problem-solving; self-management; working with people and technology use and development. The skills identification was based on rigorous study and analysis in “The Future of Jobs Report 2020” . Top 10 skills of the future, according to WEF are:

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Complex problem-solving
  4. Critical thinking and analysis
  5. Creativity, originality and initiative
  6. Leadership and social influence
  7. Technology use, monitoring and control
  8. Technology design and programming
  9. Resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility
  10. Reasoning, problem-solving and ideation

When I look at most course descriptions and their learning objectives, I see a distinct lack of the mention of these skills, perhaps with the exception of analytical thinking, complex problem solving and critical thinking and analysis. It seems we are still rather focused on being vocal about the technical skills of a profession rather than being vocal about these future critical skills needed to succeed.

Are we then leading our students to undervalue these important skills when we do not explicitly mention that we are using certain courses, certain assignments and certain other tasks to develop these success factors? Or is there a possibility that we have failed to design the learning and mastery of these skills into our curriculum?

Let’s take leadership for example. Leadership is not an individual position but a complex process of social influence that shapes the thinking and action of others toward collective goals. Responsible leadership emphasizes self-awareness and ethical attention to others and the world. I believe most business schools might leave the graduate with the mindset that leadership is a position of power to strive for rather than with the notions of responsible leadership which takes into account a larger purpose and an inclusive array of stakeholders.

I recently had the great pleasure of learning more about the teaching philosophy at the Ukrainian Catholic University. They are very systematically and with a clear purpose striving towards the mastery of the WEF skills and use a robust framework to nurture leadership in their business studies. They have chosen to adopt the Leader Character Model by Ivey business school to underpin their entire business school thinking and curriculum. The model acknowledges that to be a successful leader, competence when defined as soft and hard skills is not enough.

A leader must additionally exhibit character and commitment. The framework includes ten character traits such as integrity, accountability and courage that shape the judgment of the leader. These are characteristics that create successful leaders. Good to acknowledge is that leaders, at least not all, are not born, they are nurtured. And one important place of nurture is in our business schools. It then only seems fitting that we could have such a framework acknowledged and followed in more business schools around the world.

Comparing the skills identified by the WEF and those listed in the Leader Character Model with current business school curricula and course offering I see a disconnect. In addition, the WEF Future of Jobs report expects that 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025. Surely this reskilling will be easier and less cumbersome if we have been able to adopt the skills listed earlier or embraced the characters of a good leader?

I think it is time we were more vocal about supporting our students to be responsible and ethical leaders of tomorrow and brought the exploration and nurture of these skills to the forefront of our courses. Are you ready to lead to way?

The Character Leadership Model. Crossan, M., Byrne, A., Seijts, G., Reno, M., Monzani, L., Gandz, J.: “Toward a Framework of Leader Character in Organizations” Journal of Management Studies, 2017.