Nitish Jain is an educationist, philanthropist, entrepreneur, technology enthusiast, and President of S P Jain School of Global Management, one of Asia Pacific’s top-ranked global business schools. With state-of-the-art campuses in Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore, and Sydney, S P Jain has established a strong foothold for itself in the Asia Pacific. In 2013, he held a coveted spot in Forbes’ list of UAE’s 75 most influential people. In recognition of his work in cementing Indo-Australia ties through education, Nitish was hand-picked by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to join his official CEO delegation, comprising India’s top 12 CEOs, to Australia post the G20 summit.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about unprecedented changes to the way businesses operate, impacting nearly every individual in some capacity. Social distancing, zoom meetings, remote teams, masks, safety precautions, and so on—most companies had to return to the drawing board and reassess how their employees work. They were forced to undergo drastic changes, and businesses that failed to adapt had to close their doors.
To succeed in turbulent times, such as the current crisis, companies need managers who are resilient and can find solutions to every problem. How can international education help?
Preparing students for a digital tomorrow
Historically, much of the focus in the undergraduate curriculum has been on imparting fundamental knowledge in the areas of arts, humanities, business, science, media, and so on, with some sprinkling of leadership, soft skills, and digital training. However, in a world where digital technologies are reshaping practically everything—from how we live and play to how we work—this is not nearly enough. Managers of tomorrow need to learn to work in a world that is being constantly digitally disrupted.
It comes as no surprise then that technology is starting to occupy the center stage at a growing number of international programs—at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. We have shifted the emphasis of our business programs from decision-making to data-driven decision-making. An understanding of data science and other disruptive technologies is as critical as marketing, communication, statistics, and organizational behavior.
Managers often make decisions based on imperfect information; in fact, one of the hallmarks of a resilient and agile leader is the ability to make smart, winning decisions. However, research has proven that intuition-based decision-making is overstated and wrong, more often than what we believe to be true. On the other hand, data is precise, and though one can’t blindly go by it, our students are trained to combine data with judgment.
One of the most important life lessons we learned in 2020 is that change is inevitable. Keeping a business afloat in a world where ‘you never know what’s around the corner’ is an uphill battle, and individuals who are interested in taking on managerial roles need an education that enables them to leverage emerging tools and technologies and deploy them in practical contexts. For instance, how can AI help businesses deliver targeted marketing in the real world? How can AI be deployed to track buyers and predict their purchase decisions? Managers of tomorrow must be equipped with the skills to straddle both words—business and technology.
Of equal importance is the need to incorporate business subjects into technology courses. There is a huge demand for technology professionals with business competence—an understanding of business and all its dimensions—and can translate a business requirement into a technical specification. As a result, we are seeing several international universities offering interdisciplinary degrees that combine technology and business management.
Building soft skills, aka survival skills
So far, much of the focus in creating resilient managers has been on helping them develop digital skills, particularly those related to artificial intelligence and data science. But this approach to building resilience won’t be enough by itself.
In a world where jobs are increasingly threatened by technology, your ‘human skills’—the ability to communicate, empathize, solve problems, think critically and creatively, and influence people—will determine your ability to remain agile and adaptable and respond positively to challenges and bounce back from adversity. Not surprisingly, ‘soft skills ‘ training has become a core area of focus at most international universities.
With reputed international undergraduate programs drawing in students from around the world, team-based study groups offer a great opportunity for students to figure out how to work with people they don’t know. By facing tight deadlines and working long hours with classmates from different parts of the world, students practice empathy, collaboration, teamwork, and delegation. They develop important interpersonal skills and learn to work in culturally diverse teams—a must-have skill to succeed in global organizations.
As such, the experience of studying abroad in itself—being away from the comfort of home, meeting new people and adopting new routines, coping with stress, juggling several academic, personal, and professional commitments—can cultivate a lifelong habit of agility and adaptability that students can apply in any real-world situation.
It is entirely possible that in the post-pandemic world, many people won’t work nine to five jobs. You may never meet your peers in person. And, new professions—ones that we cannot yet imagine—may emerge. The world as we know will change. But, if universities can build a foundation upon which students can navigate a chaotic world and develop an attitude of agility and flexibility, then we will be creating a thriving workforce for the future.