Ann Francke: MBAs must give students the 'so-what?' skills

11 September 2017 -


Speaking on a Financial Times Facebook Live, CMI chief executive says MBAs need to become more work-based to help improve employability of graduates

Matt Scott

The MBA needs a shake-up to become more relevant to the modern workplace. That’s the opinion of CMI chief executive Ann Francke.

Speaking on a Facebook Live interview with the Financial Times, Francke said that employers often struggle to recruit graduates with the necessary soft skills to be a success in the workplace.

“Many employers struggle to recruit the right skills,” Francke said. “Employers look for people who can manage other people and work well with other people, as well as people who can manage themselves, their time and set the right priorities.

“Less important are the highly technical skills; it is really about the skills that will make you a successful employee at work and have an impact on the business.”

Complex tasks are increasingly being performed by computers, she pointed out. What people need to offer is “the ‘so-what’, the insights to drive your business forward.”

“Employers want staff who can make that link, as machines can do the complex, technical work,” Francke added.

Read More: 21st Century Leaders – Building practice into the curriculum to boost employability

Francke was discussing a recent Financial Times survey that found that the top-rated skills among employers are ‘soft skills’ – not the technical subjects taught in most MBAs, such as finance and marketing.

And Francke said that business schools need to look at the assessment of their courses, and make courses more work-based in order to improve the employability of their graduates, and to make businesses more productive. Social media skills, for example, are very difficult to teach in a classroom; “you just have to live it,” she said.

She referenced the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship, a work-based degree programme where 70% of time is spent in a work environment; during study time. students focus on the key people skills. “Business education needs to focus on these skills, as well as the technical skills that they have traditionally been good at.”

Very often, however, students aren’t learning how to deploy these skills consistently and recognise their importance to employers. Much graded work and exams are technical in nature. “We need to look at the assessment systems, and grade people on the impact and outcome of their work, rather than just the purity of their academic thinking.”

Francke praised evidence-based decision-making, and said that employers who help all of their employees to make better decisions will be more productive – “these [employers] are also much nicer places to work,” she added.

The Senior Leaders Master’s Degree Apprenticeship for senior managers and executives launches in October 2017. For more information on management apprenticeships visit:

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