A recently-retired friend of my wife applied to a local volunteer organisation to assist immigrants in learning English. She was informed that she would have to acquire an accreditation involving three hour sessions, two nights a week for eight weeks, two assignments and a three hour exam. This from a woman who spent a significant part of her career as a teacher helping students learn English as a second language.
A couple of years ago I established an agroforestry project for my brother and, so that I could better understand the practicalities of tissue culture and silviculture, sought out information on a general horticulture course at the local ‘hairdressing school’. The course was a complete waste of time and money, not providing anything like the information it promised. The course participants, most of whom were nursery employees or owners, knew much, much more about the subject than the presenter. But they were forced to become accredited to be able to advance their career.
It appears that business schools are suffering the same problems.
APPLICATIONS to business schools are down this year – at least in America, where management education was born and where business schools still award about 85% of the world’s business degrees. Kenneth Dunn, dean of Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, says that applications for the full-time MBA programme, one of the country’s best, are about 30% lower than this time last year.
And some of the problems stem from the dichotomy between the basic premise of the school as a ‘learning’ institution and the need to make money from the course.
The most commercially wounding criticisms are those that appear to contradict the claim that an MBA enhances career prospects. There was uproar when, two years ago, Mr Pfeffer and Christina Fong argued in Academy of Management Learning and Education that there was little evidence that getting an MBA had much effect on a graduate’s salary or career. “Usually it just makes you a couple of years older than non-MBA peers,” one source told them.
Of course, business schools may be important mainly as a screening mechanism – their basic skill may be choosing students, not teaching them. Once in, and the vast bill paid, few are ever thrown out for failing their exams even though, as Mr Pfeffer and Ms Fong mischievously point out, they are much more likely to cheat than students in other disciplines.
In “Managers Not MBAs”, a new book, he argues that conventional MBA courses offer “specialised training in the functions of business, not general educating in the practice of management”. Their students are often too young and inexperienced to learn skills that, in any case, are often easier to acquire in the workplace than sitting in a classroom. “Conventional MBA programmes train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences,” he complains. They ignore the extent to which management is a craft, requiring zest and intuition rather than merely an ability to analyse data and invent strategies.
Maybe that is why, as Mr Mintzberg gleefully points out, a list of America’s most-admired business leaders (Warren Buffett, Herb Kelleher, Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Jack Welch and Oprah Winfrey) contains not a single MBA.
In 2002 the Aspen Institute surveyed 2,000 MBA students and found that their values altered during the course. By the end, they cared less about customer needs and product quality and more about shareholder value.
Boredom has recently driven me back into the job market and I admit that not having the right credentials is making it difficult. At the top end of the market thirty-something HR consultants smile regretfully and tell me that much better qualified juniors have the post-grad accreditation, the MBA, the specific certificate or diploma. The fact that some one spends thirty years DOING and has trained dozens of subordinates, doesn’t seem to decrease the need for a Certificate 4 in Workplace Assessment.
If I apply for a job stacking shelves at Woolies (something I became very good at working for Safeway supermarkets in England) the manager, who is probably ten years younger than my son, says I’m overqualified, meaning I can’t take instructions from some one his age.
It seems that plans to improve retraining for oldies will fall flat unless there is less emphasis on having the correct accreditation and more on utilising the accumulation of life skills that only experience can provide.
As the ALA Submission to Inquiry on Ageing said;
Despite the clear reasons for older men to participate in a learning as a way of helping them through workplace, technological, or lifestyle change, many older men steadfastly refuse to take part in any form of structured learning. For example, in ACE personal enrichment courses, only 30% of enrolments are from men.
Studies conducted by the Australian National Training Authority in 2000, suggested that males aged 45 plus feature disproportionately in the ” been there/Done That”; “Done With It” attitudinal segments. Moreover the male 45+ group does not have significant representation in the other, more positive, attitudinal segments. (Source; National Marketing Strategy for Skills and Lifelong Learning, ANTA 2000).
When I retired I wanted to teach kids to swim. I reason that any number of swimming pool fences will have little influence on reducing the number of children that die, but ‘drown proofing’ infants might. The accreditation procedure required is enough to put the most ardent applicant off. And, even after passing an exhaustive police check, the rules about ‘touching while teaching’ children are ridiculous, so bad there are very, very few males who will go near kids now, certainly no male school teachers. This ‘feminisation’ of teaching and learning has had a severely deleterious affect on males re-entering the workforce.
Most ACFE providers in small towns are run, staffed and networked primarily by
women. Most have a rich history of women’s involvement through patronage, management and volunteerism. The program profiles are typically oriented to women’s needs. The learning environments are typically shaped in ways which
are overtly inclusive of women and which promote connection to community through learning”¦ As a consequence, men in small and remote towns are much less likely to become involved in ACFEB-funded adult learning.
It appears to me that if we are not to end up in a Paul Watson nightmare of Gen-X’s working their bums off to support an entire generation of early-retired males who are unwilling to retrain to re-enter the workforce, some accommodation must be made in the insistence on accreditation or credentialism; much more notice must be paid to the need for recognition of prior learning, even if that leaning was not rewarded by a piece of paper.