What do the leaders of tomorrow need to learn today?

I recently came across a report from the Association of American Colleges and Universities about employers’ views on college learning.  Although this report provides U.S. data, it seems to me that it would apply in most advanced economies, including Canada.

My more purist academic friends would now state that universities are not vocational schools, and the views of employers don’t really matter.  And, my friends might be right.  Except that they aren’t.

Whether or not we like it, most of today’s students are going to university in order to get a better job.  And employers want better qualified employees. So if two very important customers want something, then what they want matters.  We ignore their needs at our peril. We risk becoming irrelevant.

Here is the good thing about this report (for my more purist friends).  For the most part, the learning outcomes that employers want are consistent with a strong liberal education.  Things like knowledge of human culture, of the physical and natural world.  Oral communication, critical thinking, reasoning, analysis, problem solving, teamwork skills, information literacy. Employers especially want ethical decision-making. and personal and social responsibility.

What we expect from undergraduate students is increasing, to reflect the increasing complexity of the world.  At the same time, our high school graduates are less prepared in some respects than in the past.  Helping our university students prepare for what’s ahead is just as important as helping them remember the dates of the War of 1812.


1 reply »

  1. If the question being asked here is “How good are Universities at preparing people for their careers”, the only reasonable answer is “who knows”. The reason for this answer is that there is currently no viable alternative to the academic approach of Universities, when it comes to training people for their careers. Simply put, if there is no reasonable alternative to the current practice, with which to compare the current practice, then it is easy to say the current practice is the best alternative. Ok admittedly I do not know if that was simply put. However the point is that in the absence of a reasonable alternative, the real question of the effectiveness of Universities remains largely unanswered.
    Could there be a viable alternative to the predominantly academic approach of Universities? I think the answer is yes. If we look back over the past two hundred years we may find that apprenticeship was the norm and not the exception for many careers. Today, while apprenticeships are still the back bone of the skilled trades, they are no longer used in many other professions. Today’s co-op programs pale in comparison to the apprenticeship programs of long ago. However, co-op programs may also represent a good start, the basis upon which new apprenticeship programs, especially in business, can be built.
    How do we build apprenticeship programs for professions? Without getting into too much detail, perhaps the best way to introduce apprenticeships in professions is for those professions and Universities to completely redefine their relationship. But that discussion will have to wait for another day.

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