Are engineering and management schools adequately preparing students for our fast-changing, highly complex business world? Not quite, say a number of recent studies. A good education should include soft as well as hard competencies. Universities generally do a pretty good job when it comes to teaching hard skills, - engineering methods, technology, analytical tools, finance, marketing, and so on. But they don’t do so well with the softer competencies, including communications, teamwork and systemic thinking.
For example, a 2007 study on MBA education found significant gaps between the competencies companies are looking for, and what students are taught in business schools. Companies generally want MBA graduates with good social skills who are good at leadership, communications, and innovation. However, the students frequently complain that such skills will not get them the kinds of jobs they want, and they pressure the schools to offer them courses that are more functional, analytical and technical. This particular study focused primarily on MBA programs, but similar skill gaps are likely to be found in engineering and other STEM programs.
Three years ago, USC’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism embarked on the Third Space, a research project to better understand the nature of the so-called soft competencies companies are looking for, as well as the talent requirements not being adequately addressed by engineering and business schools. The project’s initial findings were recently described in a working paper, The one-trillion dollar global talent gap: What it is and what we can do about it, by Ernest Wilson, Dean of the Annenberg School.
In its first phase, the study conducted face-to-face, in-depth conversations with 75 senior executives across companies in a broad range of industries, including automobile, banking consulting, consumer products and technology. Online surveys were used to gather additional data. A number of academic institutions were consulted as well.