Designing Business Qualifications for 21st Century Learners

Business and Skills

Have they got what it takes?

At present there is an under-utilisation of skills, talent and expertise in New Zealand’s organisations. Just ask anyone who works in a large organisation, and they will tell you then getting people productive and performing is a real challenge. Without these skills our nation has an uncertain and less than positive future. However, with some forethought and planning the future can be very different. The answer lies in relevant and useful business qualifications for graduates.  21st century business people need relevant and useful qualifications that will ensure their performance and success in the first five years post-graduation.  The knowledge, skills and values gained through business qualifications provide a foundation for graduates to lead New Zealand’s future.

To ensure business learners are engaged in their learning, it is essential that both the qualifications and the curriculum they study are relevant and useful. L. Dee Fink, an education leader, has developed a 6 stage model to capture the essentials of relevant and useful qualifications. These include:

  1. Knowledge: The qualification identifies the concepts, principles, ideas and information essential for graduates’ participation in business.
  2. Skills: The qualification identifies the skills graduates need to have mastered prior to entering into business
  3. Values: The qualification identifies the attributes, characteristics and qualities of a successful business person in their field and requires the graduate to demonstrate these in their learning.
  4. People: The qualification recognises graduates will work with a range of different people in their organisation and provides them with the skills and understandings for effective practice with others.
  5. Learn: The qualification acknowledges graduates’ need for current and continued learning, and develops their learning skills.
  6. Integration: The qualification recognises graduates need to integrate theory and practice, real and virtual, academic and real world environments for successful practice.

This model provides a simple, symmetrical, sustainable and engaging curriculum  for the development of qualifications and sets a foundation for significant learning experiences for learners.

Business and Knowledge

Beyond skills there are a range of ideas, concepts and information needed to be both competent and capable in business.   There are two overriding concepts which must be included and understood if the goal of improving economic outcomes in New Zealand is to be achieved.  These are the terms “performance” and “productivity”. It is my belief that in New Zealand organisations we lack the language to have the important conversations at to what performance and productivity means in an organisation, how to measure them and how to innovate and adapt to improve in the face change. Performance, when we identify it,  should include organisational, team and personal performance. Productivity should measure the impact of the organisation on people, the planet and  profitability. Sustainability and profitability are key concepts which should be included in each qualification. Graduates without an understanding and an ability to work with these key concepts in an organisational setting are unlikely to contribute to a more productive New Zealand in the 21st century.

Here are some skills we can develop in our business students.

Legal astuteness

Legally astute graduates have the ability to identify and pursue opportunities in their organisation.  They know how to use the law and the legal system to increase the total value created in the organisation. In the past this has been an area of weakness in New Zealand organisations. Graduates will understand the value of commercialising ideas and contracting for the sale of products and services. In addition, legally astute graduates have the ability to identify, assess and manage  business risk.

Global connectedness

Global connectedness encourages graduates to think and consider issues from international perspectives, to apply international standards and practices within a discipline profession or vocation, make connections across geographical boundaries and cause graduates to consider their place in the world.

Professional skills

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines professionalism as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterise or mark a profession or a professional person”; and it defines a profession as “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation.”  These definitions imply that professionalism encompasses a number of different attributes, and, together, these attributes identify and define a professional.  Graduates with professional skills have confidence, are capable, can apply their knowledge, establish relationships with their peers and have good career prospects. Such attributes include honesty, respect for others,  accountability, fairness and pursuit of excellence.

In the past we have struggled to espouse and enact affective behaviours in business qualifications. However, the challenge of enacting and assessing affective behaviours should not detract from the importance of the inclusion of values in qualifications.

Inclusive Leadership

Inclusive leadership is the concept that can set New Zealand apart from the rest of the world in terms of performance and productivity.  Inclusive leadership has been viewed as a particularly important factor that influences creativity and innovation in organisations.  Outstanding leaders create a climate where people are engaged, feel valued, respected and connected.   These leaders ensure their people are fully included in decisions and processes and actively contribute new ideas and ways of improvement.

Inclusive leaders utilise emotional intelligence and knowledge of the value of diversity to leverage their colleagues and peers overall effectiveness and contributions. Inclusive leaders can lead and manage global and diverse teams where inclusion and empowerment are priorities.

Business graduates have a unique opportunity to explore and practice inclusive leadership in their organisations. Rather than viewing New Zealand’s diverse workplace as a challenge, it can be  viewed as a unique asset supporting overall performance and productivity in organisations.

Effective Communication

Effective communication skills encourage graduates to think and consider how to communicate within their practice, with sensitivity to their purpose and audience. It includes the ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions.  It is an essential business skill.

Enhanced Learning skills

Graduates with enhanced learning skills are empowered to take responsibility for their learning by acquiring, creating, curating, collaborating with others, and sharing their knowledge.

 An essential part of enhanced learning skills is the ability for graduates to reflect on their practice and performance. Enhanced learning skills are important for learning and workplace success and continued career development.  Graduates with enhanced learning skills can solve the problems of today and tomorrow.

Information skills

Graduates with information skills can answer questions, solve problems, and support innovation and creativity.  They have the ability to define a problem, locate information, select the best quality knowledge, organise and present their ideas.  

Thinking skills

In “How to Create and Develop a Thinking Classroom”, Mike Fleetham writes:
”  in our evolving world, the ability to think is fast becoming more desirable than any fixed set of skills or knowledge. Graduates with thinking skills can analyse  problems, make decisions, and are innovative and creative. They are valuable in the workplace as conduits of change and ideas.

Work integrated learning

Work integrated learning opportunities encourage students to develop their capabilities in a supervised study related environment. Graduates who have work integrated learning are more likely to be employed and to develop their reflective practice and enhanced learning skills.  They can use their skills and knowledge to lead projects to enhance organisational productivity and performance.

For anyone who works for an organisation or owns a business these skills are critical for organisational success.  Peter Senge, in the Fifth Discipline writes, “..many organisations espouse a commitment to fostering personal growth among their employees because they believe it will make the organisation stronger.”  The skills outlined here are a beginners baseline, they will provide a foundation of continued learning, growth and development. It is the responsibility of our business schools to provide them through relevant and useful qualifications.

Read more here…
Lack of financial nous threatens SMEs

Where is New Zealand Inc going wrong?

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One Response to Designing Business Qualifications for 21st Century Learners

  1. Thank you very much for your post.

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