Poor management skills? What have these adolescents been doing with their lives?

David Cartwright joins the call for a skills and education overhaul.

Let’s face it, degrees are so commonplace nowadays that they’re no longer the differentiator they once were. Yes, they may convey a certain level of academic achievement but they don’t make people work ready.

Likewise the MBA. Once seen as the pinnacle of business qualification for ambitious high-fliers already in work, it exemplifies a qualification that no longer carries any gravitas. Like the university degree it’s lost currency in an overcrowded marketplace.

Qualifications are no more than a blunt managerial instrument applied in recruitment. Like much investment in education and training, it feels like the right thing to be doing even without understanding its real utility. This educational state of affairs makes some of the findings from the Chartered Management Institute’s “21st Century Leaders” report all the more alarming. 

From more than 1,000 organisations surveyed, it concluded that 70% of managers want leadership and enterprise modules built into every degree course, 66% of employers want graduates to achieve professional qualifications in addition to their main degree and 62% of managers expect graduates to demonstrate management skills.

Since the introduction of league tables in schools and universities, our educational model is assessed on students’ grade attainment rather than their ability to problem solve and critically analyse.

At a time when 15% of workers are over qualified for their job and fewer degree-qualified roles exist than there are students graduating, it seems ridiculous that employers should demand even more qualifications.

Since the introduction of league tables in schools and universities, our educational model is assessed on students’ grade attainment rather than their ability to problem solve and critically analyse. When a system encourages conformity of thought over diversity, demanding more qualifications is not the answer.

All businesses want to recruit the very best talent for their organisation but young people cannot be expected to lead and be work-ready from day one. Certainly not when we’re informed that those same skills are already lacking within the existing leadership ranks.

Textbooks, lecturers with limited knowledge of what leadership currently looks and feels like, an MBA programme which focuses on strategy, funding and attempting to extrapolate valuable learning from case studies of businesses all bear no resemblance to the businesses young people find themselves in. 

Young people can learn more about leadership but they need to do it to understand its complexities and uncertainties. We need enthusiastic and capable people entering the world of work with practical experience of how it works.

This can be achieved by businesses offering internships and work-placements. From these early experiences young people can begin to understand the challenges of leadership as observed from their role as followers. 

It’s ironic that with so many managers demanding pre-prepped young talent, so few are prepared to invest in offering opportunities to help make this a reality. The CMI survey also confirmed that less than 30% of companies offered placements.

Line managers fail to offer the support to interns and placements believing they have more important priorities. Consequently, the experiential learning and benefit for both parties is limited. Our own research confirms line managers to be equally poor at prioritising the development of the people they lead.

Our focus should be on school leavers too. They’re just as likely to have the endeavour and innate skills to prosper in the world of work as anyone else. 

This not only leads to disengagement, but also severely compromises the future capability and capacity of the business to compete. 

A Government white paper suggests that Britain would be £300bn richer without a single extra hour being worked if management quality was better. We’re good at creating new jobs, but fail to invest in existing employees. If we’re struggling to keep pace with the productivity levels of our EU counterparts then leadership quality needs focussed attention.

Our focus should be on school leavers too. Those people who haven’t excelled in academia or who either haven’t the financial security to go or see no value in attaining a speculative degree. They’re just as likely to have the endeavour and innate skills to prosper in the world of work as anyone else.

There is no evidence to suggest that their innovative, commercial or people skills are any less than their graduate counterparts.

So rather than asking for extra qualifications why not welcome all young people with open arms and a commitment to their development? Let’s provide them with a level of experiential training where skills development takes place alongside their day job and where their leader is actively engaged in their progress and development.

Let’s create an environment in which people can learn, relate the learning to their workplace and then convert the learning into practice.

As an urgent imperative, we need to offer young talent entering the world of work the opportunity to develop their potential whilst offering equal opportunity to those already in work. No action will result in a skills shortage and worse still, a disengaged workforce.

Whilst schools and universities can do much to prepare young people for the world of work the responsibility for coaching and developing talent is the responsibility of those entrusted to lead.

It’s those entrusted leaders who will make the real difference in the productivity of 21st century organisations. So we’d better get a move on in highlighting who these people are and what coaching leadership skills they require to help us compete successfully.


About the author

David Cartwright is founder of the OBD Academy, which delivers coach-supported leadership development.


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