What is the product of a university? What are we producing? Some would say students are the customer, while others say that students are the product. Indeed, to consider that we produce well-educated employees on behalf of business is a very strong and pervasive point of view in the academic world. While universities have many stakeholders, as a faculty member, I’ve prided myself on my interest in and ability to combine industry needs into the training of my undergraduate students. I typically begin these conversations with industry folks by asking them what is lacking in their new hires. The similarities in their answers have led me to the conclusion that universities need stronger partnerships with industry to better prepare new grads who become new hires.
A good bit of the problem, according to industry partners, is what I refer to as the syllabization of the student. That is, students are becoming very skilled at performing exactly what is asked of them and work best with checklists or rubrics to which they can direct their efforts very specifically. However, the unfortunate collateral damage of this focus is discomfort with processes which aren’t spelled out for them. The students then become uncomfortable taking risks or performing creative tasks. The new hire wants to be told, step-by-step, exactly what to do and how to ‘get it right.’
While some industry jobs may benefit from this attention to process and procedure, others do not. Take for example, data analysis. While one level of data analysis, reporting, may be a good fit for a student uncomfortable with risk taking and exploration, the more creative level of data analysis, the actual analysis portion, is not. If a new hire is not comfortable exploring the data or learning more on their own, they will not find much success as an analyst. This is one of the unfortunate results of syllabization.
In the new hire population, there is also a reported lack of initiative to learn new skills or go deeper into their job duties and its context. For example, if a new hire is responsible for F&B analytics, but does not know how the F&B department within their organization works, what the business goals are, and how their operations function, they will be ill-equipped to truly understand and explore the data available to them. Unfortunately, most new hire analysts aren’t taking this type of initiative to learn more about the context of their work. While the initiative to learn more on their own is also related to personality and levels of self-motivation, the encouragement and pressure to move in that direction begins at the university.
The presence of industry involvement in both the curriculum and course development process as well as physically in the classroom, helps reduce this level of syllabization as well as increase the student’s perception of importance of taking initiative. Ongoing conversations between faculty and industry help faculty identify shortcomings in the new graduates who become new hires. This identification informs classroom practices and frequently encourages more creative and constructive classroom activities. While content knowledge is essential, the ability to apply that knowledge in a real-world setting is imperative.
As industry partners, you can help move this process forward by being involved with the universities from which you recruit in several ways. First, stay in touch with administrators such as Deans and department chairs. This will expose you to opportunities for engagement, involvement, and collaboration. Second, develop partnerships with faculty members who share an interest in producing the best possible new graduates and new hires. Third, make time to speak in classrooms. This is an excellent opportunity to reinforce the importance of creativity, problem solving, self-motivated learning, initiative, and other factors. This face-to-face time with the students is immeasurably valuable!
Finally, while not all institutions or faculty are interested in this type of partnership, we should be! Preparing students for their first job as well as their career, can only strengthen the university by improving student learning and overall student outcomes. As faculty, we can improve this process by seeking out industry partners who take an active interest in our students and the curriculum. To promote this type of industry relationship, first, seek out active, interested industry partners. Second, be open to discussing, exploring, and perhaps changing the material and teaching methods utilized in the classroom. Finally, invite industry partners into your classroom and have them discuss these new-hire skills, needs, and possible lack thereof to truly emphasize the importance of these skills to the students.
Creating stronger industry-education relationships can lead to improved education for new graduates who become new hires. The openness of both parties to the value of the other is essential. Working together, we can reduce the syllabization of university students and produce better, more productive, and therefore more valuable new hires!
Heather Monteiro is marketing faculty in the UNLV Lee Business School’s Marketing and International Business Department, and most recently the Market Research Analyst for the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration’s Center for Professional and Leadership Studies. Dr. Monteiro earned an MBA from Georgia College and State University and a Ph.D. at Georgia Southern University in Logistics and Supply Chain Management, with a concentration in Marketing/ Consumer Behavior.
Dr. Monteiro has taught advertising and promotion, marketing strategy, digital marketing, supply chain management, logistics, and transportation. Her research interests include social media marketing, methodology, consumer behavior, pedagogy and the economic impact of transportation infrastructure improvement. Dr. Monteiro’s research has appeared in Marketing Management Journal, Gaming & Leisure, Current Psychology, College Teaching, and Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education and has been presented at Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, American Marketing Association, and Decision Sciences Institute.