digitalswitzerland, University of St Gallen Business School and SIX co-organised an MBA competition on fintech and digital exchanges, as part of our commitment to lifelong learning, in which 12 teams competed for the first place. MBAs have traditionally been considered highly valuable in a career path. In today’s world, an MBA is no longer enough; employees need to reskill and upskill throughout their lives. So how does that impact tertiary and executive education?

MBA, PHD or both?

According to Forbes,“for the most part, today’s business schools are busy teaching and researching 20th century management principles and, in effect, leading the parade towards yesterday.” This is important for the discussion on the value of MBAs. As Forbes writes, companies today are “focused on continuous innovation for customers and organized to be nimble, adaptable, and able to adjust on the fly to meet the shifting whims of a marketplace driven by end-users.” This is not aligned with what MBA courses teach and new management and business practice require “a different mindset with counterintuitive ideas that fly in the face of the assumptions of a ‘good’ 20th century manager or the typical business school case.”

Almost a decade ago, The Economist wrote a long paper on whether PhDs were still appropriate in an ever changing job market where a solid skillset is required. PhDs are still a requirement for academic careers, but what about the rest of the labour market? Peter Fiske commented in  Nature that short courses, which abound on and offline, often fulfil specific skills training better than the lengthy and in-depth study for a PhD thesis. For scientific PhDs, doctoral candidates should be able to split and analyse data. According to the Swiss government, “the fact that the number of students and doctoral students is increasing year after year demonstrates the great attraction of the ETH Domain (2017: +3.1%). The biggest increase in the number of students in 2017 was registered in IT (+7.5%) and engineering sciences (+4.1%).” The Adecco Group’s skills shortage report still ranks engineers at the top of missing professionals.

Online certification

The rise of online and mobile short, skill-focused trainings, has prompted a discussion on the validation of certifications delivered by some of these institutions. According to Huffington Post contributor Tom Laurinavicius writing in 2016: “Today, online certifications like the PMP, CBAP, Lean Six Sigma, etc, carry more value and credibility than a university degree, even.” The reason is simple: “Conventional education – university programs, college degrees, vocational training- aren’t designed to cope with the changing needs of industry, while online certifications are devised specifically with this end objective in mind.” Lifelong learning has also adopted agility in its approach to training.

Non-certifying lifelong learning

In Switzerland, certification is important to both employers and employees, still cast in a 20th century mindset. The website orientation.ch advises that “continuous training also exists. It encourages personal and/or professional development (e.g. language courses, computer courses, for the use of specific tools, etc.).” And concludes that even those courses deliver a certificate.  Yet many employees learn valuable hard and soft skills on the job. According to the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (CEDEFOP) “challenging tasks, which involve decision-making, problem solving, judgement, peer learning and applying new knowledge, reflect the breadth and diversity of learning in the workplace.“ Further, “seen from the perspective of individuals, flexible routes and recognition are key to encouraging them to take up learning. They need to see clear benefits. The knowledge, skills and competence they acquire need to have a real value: a better or a new job, the opportunity to pursue further learning without having to start from scratch, the chance to combine their qualifications with complementary skills within a similar or different study field.” Swiss employers would perhaps find more skills in the marketplace if they took into consideration such elements.

Stay tuned! 

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Author Danièle Castle, digitalswitzerland

Senior Director Education & Talent

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