The Eagle Blog

The Canadian Advantage?

I had a very interesting discussion recently with a couple of very successful entrepreneurs and the Dean of a University faculty. The discussion centred around the fact that each year very bright students graduate from universities with an excellent grounding in their discipline of choice, but not necessarily a decent understanding of the business world which many of them are about to enter.

Some of the issues that we discussed will be no surprise to those of you who also run businesses, but it appears that there are those who will be surprised.

Students may have an excellent grounding in engineering, computer science, law or any other discipline but they lack a basic understanding of the “real world”.

1. Students generally enter the workforce feeling that their technical skills are all they need.
2. They have no real concept about how business works.
3. They most often do not relate how their work ties in to company profits … ie. if it isn’t profitable then you are not going to be doing it for long.
4. They have trouble working in teams, and pulling their weight.
5. They do not have a good understanding of, nor appreciation for, the importance of sales and marketing.
6. They often do not have good communication skills, either verbal or written. Nor do they see the value in these skills.
7. They often do not have good presentation skills.
8. They often do not understand the importance of how they present themselves, through their dress choices.
9. They are not receptive to feedback designed to help them improve.
10. They have no appreciation for the bigger picture, global trends and the geo-political climate.
11. There was also a sense that many new employees arrive with the sense that they have now earned their right to a job, instead of the attitude that they now have to work harder than ever!

It was an interesting discussion that highlighted a gap between academia and business that can, with a little effort, be closed appreciably. I think that there is a will to make this work, on both sides and it will be interesting to see if, here in Ottawa, we can make a little progress down that path. The feeling of this little group was that if we can’t make progress with these issues then Canadian competitiveness will continue to be eroded and we will lose more and more to “offshore” competition.

More to come …


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4 thoughts on “The Canadian Advantage?

  1. This article was bound to get a response from me!

    I think the fact that students lack “a decent understanding of the business world which many of them are about to enter” is not a criticism of university at all. Some of our students enter business (some of our students ARE businesspeople – paying their way through uni with their own PC maintentance/web design/web hosting companies). Some enter research. Some enter teaching. Some go into other professions entirely – civil service, social care, media…

    University isn’t (and I don’t think it should be) a training course for a particular job. So some of your points, I’m going to reject out of hand:-) These are points 2, 3, and 5. That’s not the job of a university.

    The other points, well… there’s no excuse for 1, 9 or 11. The thought that a degree in X is all you need in the world of work is simply short sighted. That, I think, could be the arrogance of youth, perhaps.

    4, 6 and 7 (teamwork, presentation and communication skills) are things we work very hard on here, and I don’t know if it is the same in Canada. The British Computer Society accredits certain degree programs (most of those at the better institutions) and these have to have evidence of various “professional development” skills – teamwork, presentation and the need for CPD are all part of this. Our students give presentations all the time – and have a serious emphasis on groupwork (including group projects which go from business plan through to implementation).

    As for 10 – it is a difficult problem, and I don’t see how it can be addressed at University level. It is more a personal thing. Some of us read the paper s and watch the news, and take in what we see and integrate it with the rest of what we’re doing and some of us don’t.

    I’m happy to enter into a debate about what the job of a university is, but I think you’ll agree that not only does it have to be more general than just business, it’s also not the best place to learn about business. I mean, universities are full of people like me – my business understanding isn’t terrible, but I’ve never worked in the private sector for more than a few months (and only at the lowest level). If you want someone to teach practical business skills, perhaps you need a practical business person!

  2. This article was bound to get a response from me!

    I think the fact that students lack “a decent understanding of the business world which many of them are about to enter” is not a criticism of university at all. Some of our students enter business (some of our students ARE businesspeople – paying their way through uni with their own PC maintentance/web design/web hosting companies). Some enter research. Some enter teaching. Some go into other professions entirely – civil service, social care, media…

    University isn’t (and I don’t think it should be) a training course for a particular job. So some of your points, I’m going to reject out of hand:-) These are points 2, 3, and 5. That’s not the job of a university.

    The other points, well… there’s no excuse for 1, 9 or 11. The thought that a degree in X is all you need in the world of work is simply short sighted. That, I think, could be the arrogance of youth, perhaps.

    4, 6 and 7 (teamwork, presentation and communication skills) are things we work very hard on here, and I don’t know if it is the same in Canada. The British Computer Society accredits certain degree programs (most of those at the better institutions) and these have to have evidence of various “professional development” skills – teamwork, presentation and the need for CPD are all part of this. Our students give presentations all the time – and have a serious emphasis on groupwork (including group projects which go from business plan through to implementation).

    As for 10 – it is a difficult problem, and I don’t see how it can be addressed at University level. It is more a personal thing. Some of us read the paper s and watch the news, and take in what we see and integrate it with the rest of what we’re doing and some of us don’t.

    I’m happy to enter into a debate about what the job of a university is, but I think you’ll agree that not only does it have to be more general than just business, it’s also not the best place to learn about business. I mean, universities are full of people like me – my business understanding isn’t terrible, but I’ve never worked in the private sector for more than a few months (and only at the lowest level). If you want someone to teach practical business skills, perhaps you need a practical business person!

  3. A nice response from my niece, presenting some very valid points from the university perspective.

    My personal view is that the very reason for our education system is to prepare our students for the next stage in their lives. This learning does not come just from the education system, our society needs to step up to the plate too … it may come as a total shock to many graduating students to know that life in the workforce will not be as described in their favorite sitcom!

    The Dean that we met with was very receptive to adding value to his program such that his graduates would stack up favorably against others! He also suggested that probably more than 80% of the graduates would end up in private sector, which also supported our “business focus”.

    Working together, business and academia can continue to make the education system more relevant for today’s workforce … in isolation, academia can only guess at what they think we need. Enough said!

  4. A nice response from my niece, presenting some very valid points from the university perspective.

    My personal view is that the very reason for our education system is to prepare our students for the next stage in their lives. This learning does not come just from the education system, our society needs to step up to the plate too … it may come as a total shock to many graduating students to know that life in the workforce will not be as described in their favorite sitcom!

    The Dean that we met with was very receptive to adding value to his program such that his graduates would stack up favorably against others! He also suggested that probably more than 80% of the graduates would end up in private sector, which also supported our “business focus”.

    Working together, business and academia can continue to make the education system more relevant for today’s workforce … in isolation, academia can only guess at what they think we need. Enough said!

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