If you take a look at the state of business education in the world today, you’d have to conclude that we’ve never been in a better position to take our organisations forward to places we’ve only dreamed of. There’s never been more business education available than there is currently. We have more business schools, both physically and on the internet. More people are going through these formal programmes than ever before. There’s also never been more access to information informally than ever before. Almost anyone can get access to some of the greatest thinking with regards to business.
And yet there’s a shortage of people to fill key positions in most organisation I speak to, no matter the continent they find themselves on. The opportunities abound and yet there aren’t enough people to take them up. However, I contend, it’s not that there’s a shortage of educated people to fill these spaces. The problem we have is that there’s a shortage of people who have the required depth, gravitas and experience. And in my opinion, no number of business education programmes can fix this problem.
Depth, gravitas and experience are not learned in a classroom (no matter how good it is). These characteristics emerge on the job. They develop through numerous and varied experiences over time. And if this is the main process by which you aquire them, then there are some interesting modern challenges and obstacles we have to deal with:
- The length of tenure of many young people is getting shorter and shorter, before they shift jobs, companies and industries.
- Companies have placed significant pressure and stress on their managers and leaders by thinning head count. ‘Grey Beard’ availability to transfer knowledge and experience is becoming scarcer and scarcer.
- More digital engagement and therefore less personal engagement. Technology doesn’t necessarily add any extra value you weren’t expecting. It does what you ask it and then moves on.
- From a demographics perspective, the developed world, first world, northern hemisphere (I know these descriptors are weak) has an interesting challenge. Theirs is a number problem. When you look at their demographic shape you notice very quickly that there are more Baby Boomers retiring than the number of ‘replacements’ coming through in Gen X. Where do they find the extra people they need?
- Through the same filter, the developing world, 3rd world and southern hemisphere have the inverse problem. It’s not numbers, because their demographic shape is a pyramid. More than enough people but insufficient resource to train and develop this large number. Add to that senior people being attracted to the developed world to fill their numbers problem.
Certainly in my conversations with middle and senior managers and leaders there is agreement across the board for the urgent need to build gravitas faster. How that’s done is the question. As I wrote earlier, our tried and trusted method has always been numerous and varied experiences over time. But the challenges I list above are complicating this. We need to find another way to do this?
I’d like to hear your solutions, should you agree with me, and then have any? But let me end by putting one suggestion on the table.
What if the Developed and Developing Worlds got together to solve this? It does seem like we have a neat fit with regard to our demographic challenge. Why shouldn’t South Africa (for example – but insert and developing world country here) be one of the bread-baskets to the world for medical professionals? Currently our medical people are world class and highly rated by the countries all over the planet. And the great news is that we have a large supply of young people who’d love an opportunity to qualify in this space. We just don’t have the money to build more medical schools for education and hospitals for experience. Solve this and in a few years we’ll have more than enough for most countries with a shortage.
Of course, right now, why should the Developed World come to the party? They’re already getting our medical professionals for ‘free’. They have better value-propositions as countries than we do, and so it’s a fairly simple job convincing a 35 year old doctor to move across the planet to live and work in their environment. But if business and government got together to begin to find solutions, this may not be that far-out-an-idea.
It’s also a scalable solution. Call-Centers are often seen (in theory) as great training grounds for people wanting to move into other areas of an organisation. They get fantastic exposure to many aspects of the business, and in the 1-2 years they’ve been there they’re a better starting prospect than someone equally academically qualified who hasn’t had the Call-Center experience. Often the obstacle to taking on this sort of thinking is that the Call-Center doesn’t see itself as a ‘bread-basket’ and other business-units don’t see them as that either. Imagine the Call-Center selected it’s best agents, and instead of trying (in vain) to keep them, they did a deal with a business-unit in the company. Offer the Call-Center operator a chance to move within the business if they stay an extra 12 months and receive business-unit specific training and development. Churn rates fall in the Call-Center (more gravitas is retained), the Call-Center Operator feels valued and possibly more committed, and the business-unit gets a far better candidate than if they’d gone outside of the business.
Of course all of this requires a large amount of conversation, and that takes time. And with the pressure many people in business are under, there simply isn’t enough time to be thinking medium term. It’s tough out there and the problems are enormous and immediate. But if we don’t begin to fix this one, the problems are only going to get larger and larger.
Would love to hear some of your thoughts?