Not so long ago, EMBA students came to programs with the clear goal of moving up the corporate ladder.
Today, the sands are shifting. While still looking to enhance their career, their motivations take different forms.
“In the past, it was very much about career advancement, with the assumption that careers were on a linear, upward trajectory,” says Marion Debruyne, dean of the Vlerick Business School in Belgium. “What they are looking for from us now is a way to give them other skills, to break new territories. They are asking how are you going to help me change paths, not just move forward? It’s very much the feeling of reinventing.”
Debruyne joined two other deans – Nicola Kleyn, dean of GIBS at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, and Martin Boehm, dean of the IE Business School in Spain – to share their perspectives about EMBA as plenary speakers at the 2018 EMBAC Conference in Madrid, Spain. Carsten Linz, business development officer and global head of the Center for Digital Leadership at SAP, moderated the discussion.
Students want to develop different sets of skills that will help them change and reinvent themselves, says Boehm. Digital literacy – understanding the potential and applications of technology to business – is a must.
“We see a constant demand for human capital that can meet the digital transformation,” he says.
Other skills are proving important in offering a competitive edge, and they deal with the human side of business, says Boehm. They include creativity, innovation, empathy, teamwork, and negotiation, all skills not likely to be handled by machines in the next few decades.
EMBA also can help nurture another vital skill for now and the future – critical thinking. Critical thinking allows business leaders to ask the right questions and differentiates effective leaders from ineffective ones, he says.
EMBA Programs bear a responsibility to make a positive difference in students’ lives, says Kleyn.
“We talk about the program as transformative,” she says. “If you leave the same person as you came in as, we failed you. We failed ourselves. We failed our alumni.”
Debruyne, Boehm, and Kleyn also agree that programs must broaden the perspectives of students and instill in them the notion that business can be a force for good in society.
“It’s not only about making money,” says Boehm. It’s about helping students find their purpose. “What’s my contribution to the organization? What’s my contribution to society? I think those answers are becoming more and more important.”
Business schools need to address key trends while maintaining a clear mission, he says. Technology, for one, is opening access and changing teaching methods.
With the development of modular programs that meet on campus in defined blocks of time, location no longer serves as a barrier for students. Programs also are focusing on innovations where students learn through hands-on experiences and are able to apply their expertise in their day-to-day jobs, says Boehm.
As a relatively new school, GIBS is entrepreneurial in its perspective, says Kleyn, investing in those kinds of experiential, or hands-on learning, opportunities and scaling those up both internationally and locally.
Business schools and EMBA Programs must remain nimble, changing content more quickly than in the past. “It’s really about adapting curriculum on a continuous basis,” says Boehm.
As schools and programs consider the future, they want to keep all eyes on the end goal, says Debruyne.“When the world around you is changing fast, you need to go back to your essence, you need to go back to your core, and that essence is why we are here and what is our purpose,” she says. “We are constantly adapting to the world that is transforming, but staying true to our core.”