Employers urged to build bridges with business schools

New report calls for every business graduate to undertake vital work experience as a core element of their course

Employers are seeking ‘business-ready’ graduates, but are not doing enough to offer extended, meaningful work experience, a new report from CMI (the Chartered Management Institute), the Association of Business Schools (ABS) and the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has discovered. Only one fifth of businesses questioned (22%) currently offer job placements or internships to business school students. Yet, 89% of respondents agreed that embedding work experience within business courses would make students more employable. Employers questioned as part of the report ‘21st Century Leaders: Building practice into the curriculum to boost employability’ saw that meaningful work experience would develop students’ skills through learning by doing, applying theory learnt in the classroom to real world situations and gaining a more rounded and realistic view of the world of work. 

The change in emphasis – with businesses committing to offering suitable work placements – would benefit employers as 51% currently report they have difficulties in recruiting high calibre new managers because they cannot find the candidates with the right skills. Indeed, the report reveals that employers do not naturally look to business schools as their preferred source of interns or permanent recruits; only 17% of employers recruit directly from business schools when recruiting first time managers. Instead, more than a third (45%) use business schools to train and develop staff focusing on executive education rather than recruitment.

The report also finds that the employers have low awareness of the innovations that have taken place in recent years; 40% of employers surveyed could not say if business schools did or did not understand the needs of organisations like theirs, whilst 47% could not say whether or not business schools in their area are well-connected with the local business community. These outmoded perceptions mean just under a third (31%) of employers do not think there is a business case for working with universities. This is despite evidence that shows that business and management education provides £3.25bn of revenue to the UK and that businesses that are physically located nearest to business schools have better-quality management.

The report also recognises that professional bodies, like CMI, have a complementary role to play in recognising and accrediting professional management skills within the business school curriculum. 75 per cent of employers agreed that more graduates should seek professional qualifications alongside their academic achievements to give employers evidence of their practical/applied skills. Employers welcome such professional accreditation as this helps to demonstrate that courses are relevant to the world of work, meet professional standards and include ethical codes.

Ann Francke, Chief Executive of CMI, says: “Stronger collaboration between business schools, employers and professional bodies will result in a better generation of leaders and also help lay the groundwork for greater innovation, management capability, and growth. It’s a win-win situation because employers get professionally trained, practically-skilled managers who can deliver results from day one – while graduates boost their career and progression prospects and universities improve student satisfaction, attracting more and better candidates.”

The report further recommends that business schools work to develop stronger relationships with SMEs. The survey shows that 68 per cent of employers believe that business courses are too focused on the agenda of big business rather than preparing students for working in SMEs. Given there are an estimated 4.9 million small and medium-sized businesses in the UK, employing 24.3 million people the report recommends that this can be tackled by business schools and universities forging closer working relationships with SMEs, through routes like the new Small Business Charter and by working with Local Economic Partnerships.

CMI, the Association of Business Schools and QAA reviewed the current business and management curriculum, working closely with the ABS’s membership of 118 UK business schools and over 500 employers and management experts, through CMI’s Regional and Devolved Nation Boards across the UK.

Jane Harrington, Vice Chair, Association of Business Schools commented: “We need to ensure that business schools are positioned as the agents of innovation and growth, and a key source of talent for employers.  This report underlines that the curricula must be robust and relevant, enabling students to embrace an innovative, ethical and entrepreneurial ethos and bring this into the workplace. The more effectively universities work with business and with the professional bodies that support businesses and growth the greater opportunities we have for effectively developing UK talent.”

Anthony McClaran, CEO, QAA added: “Increasing employer engagement and enhancing students’ employability are key strategic priorities for the Agency. We were, therefore, keen to participate in the development of this report and fully support its conclusions and key recommendations. A practice-based curriculum can be best achieved through closer working between employers and business schools. This collaboration will not only reap rewards for both HEIs and businesses but, crucially, develop the work readiness of new and future graduates.”