Are Business Schools Ready For the Future of Work?

There’s no time like the present for the business curriculum to address changes in four fundamental areas of business.
Are Business Schools Ready For the Future of Work?

IMAGINE THAT IT’S MAY 2025, and a new crop of business school graduates is entering the workforce. What kinds of experiences will these graduates need to find jobs in their fields? What skills will employers value most? And how will their careers be different from those of graduates today?

We asked three individuals with their eyes on the future to highlight the biggest changes they see ahead for business. They include Jeanne Meister, a founding partner of the consulting firm Future Workplace and co-author of The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today, and Karie Willyerd, a workplace futurist for SAP and co-author of both The 2020 Workplace with Meister and Stretch: How to Future-Proof Yourself in Tomorrow’s Workplace. We also spoke to David Krackhardt, professor of organizations and co-director of the Center for the Future of Work at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Their predictions coalesce around four primary areas. Let’s call them “the four T’s”: training, time, technology, and teams. According to these experts, educational providers who address the needs of business in these quickly evolving areas will stay relevant and ready for the future of work.


Training: Future workers need more of it to stay up-to-date.
What’s one of the biggest concerns for today’s employees? That their skills will become obsolete, according to a survey conducted by SAP. “And yet companies cannot keep up with the need for training to meet today’s needs, let alone future needs,” says Willyerd. In the future, more employees will take charge of their own training needs, so they can stay current with the latest thinking, technologies, tools, and emerging fields.

The growing demand for just-in-time, brief, and highly focused learning opportunities represents “a huge opportunity for providers,” says Willyerd. She sees the possibility for more subscription-based models of learning, which would allow practitioners to access webinars and in-person discussions throughout the year to catch up on their industries.

Time: Future workers will have even less of it to spare.
People will be looking for ways to do everything more efficiently, which means they’ll be looking for educational options that are more easily accessible, are more focused on their current needs, and take less time to complete. Meister sees three primary trends reshaping workplace training: the explosion of online videos, the increased sophistication of digital assistants, and the rise of the millennial generation.

People have become very accustomed to seeking out online videos to learn everything from how to cook to how to play guitar, so it will be a natural progression for them to turn to short videos to master more complex learning, says Meister. As an example, she points to the growing popularity of MOOCs, which heavily feature video instruction supplemented by group discussion and other materials. “MOOCs just came out three years ago, and already 24 million people have taken one,” she says. “At first, MOOCs focused on technical training and computer science, but now we’re seeing more MOOCs on topics like leadership development and emotional intelligence—topics that have been the bread and butter for business schools.”

And as smartphone-based digital assistants like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana become more capable, Meister believes that people will evolve quickly from saying “Find me the best restaurants within two blocks” to “Show me a list of MOOCs on leadership.”

The previous two trends will be reinforced by the third—the increasing influence of the millennial generation, whose expectations will have significant impact on the workplace, especially on the ways people learn, says Meister. By 2020, millennials will make up 50 percent of the U.S. workforce; by 2025, that number will be 75 percent. Millennials will be a primary target for anytime-anywhere learning, but they’ll want to engage in meaningful social interactions in the process, Meister predicts. “In the future, they’ll want to access education in ways that are more like a consumer experience, and they’ll increasingly expect more choices.”

In recent interviews that Future Workplace conducted with 220 heads of human resources and corporate learning, “44 percent said they had initiatives underway either to curate existing MOOCs or create custom company MOOCs for their organizations,” says Meister. “They planned to give their workers access to all the high-quality learning that’s out there.” That means that companies could shift more of their training budgets from formal degree and executive education programs to self-directed “microlearning” based on MOOCs, TED Talks, and podcasts.

“In a few years, I see half of all executive education programs going out of business,” warns Meister, unless business schools tap into the demand for shorter-term and more consumer-oriented online training options.

Technology: Future Workers will need to know more about IT, even if they're not in IT fields.
Digital technology, social media, and big data will reign supreme in the future workplace, driving how people communicate, collaborate, and understand their markets. But the fast pace of technological advancement in the last ten years is only going to accelerate. “Technology is changing more quickly than managers can keep up with,” says Krackhardt. “They will have to bring in talented workers who aren’t just familiar with new technology—they also will have to know how to integrate new technologies into the organization.”

The most successful workers in all fields will have learned a coding language and the basis of technology platforms. With this training, Krackhardt says, managers will know when new technologies and innovations make sense and how to coordinate their implementation effectively. Those they manage might not necessarily know what the latest technology or innovation is, but when presented with new options, they’ll have the technical skills to understand them

Meister reinforces the need for the educational market to address the “digital skills gap.” “Companies invest millions of dollars into new technology for people to use, but not enough in training them to use it,” says Meister. “Workers are asking for help to become more proficient in their digital skills.” She points to a 2014 Harris Interactive poll conducted for Grovo, a training solution company. In the poll, only one in ten workers believed they were “very proficient” with the digital tools they had to use every day for their jobs, while 58 percent noted that they would welcome additional technological training

Willyerd agrees that future workers will need to be more computer savvy. “Companies will have systems running all kinds of programs and producing all kinds of data, but they’ll still need to rely on people who can ask good questions.”

Teams: Future workers will need to work effectively across time zones, cultures, and perspectives.
Team-based collaboration is the “T” that could shape the future workplace the most. From Skype and social media to telepresence and collaborative platforms, technology has closed the distance between workers, whether they’re in different offices or different countries. Today’s digital natives will have to develop skills in coordinating workflow and appreciating differences. “Ten years ago, people needed to develop a global mindset to run an office in Brazil,” says Meister. “Future corporations will be building multicultural workforces, and workers will need to understand the cultures of everyone they work with. A strong global perspective will be as core a skill as leadership development is today.”Krackhardt reiterates the point that global and technological understanding will go hand in hand. “Because technology is making it easier for us to work internationally, we can connect with people from different time zones more easily,” he says. “The technological side and the international side will be dominant themes for the future workplace.”

However, even though—or perhaps because—virtual teams will be more prevalent, face-to-face interactions will become even more important, Krackhardt emphasizes. He refers to the long-established “law of propinquity,” which states that the farther away people are from each other, the less likely it is that they will interact. Even with email, social media, and web conferencing, he says, people don’t work well together unless they trust one another—and they won’t trust one another unless they develop personal, face-to-face relationships

As one example, he refers to Francisco D’Souza, CEO of Cognizant, which funds Carnegie Mellon’s Center for the Future of Work. Each month D’Souza requires all of his vice presidents to fly to Frankfurt, Germany, to meet in person. “The irony is that Cognizant designs technology so companies don’t have to do this!” says Krackhardt. “When I asked him why, he said, ‘Because I really need their attention for the whole weekend.’”

He stresses the need for managers to learn how to balance the virtual and face-to-face effectively, because “relationships can be enhanced by technology, but they cannot be replaced by technology.”


Krackhardt, Meister, and Willyerd agree that as the workplace continues to evolve, the areas of training, time, technology, and teams will represent great opportunities for educational providers.“

The problem is that business schools are still focused on longer degree and certificate programs,” Willyerd says. “They plan their curricula to meet current business needs, but by the time they put their new curricula into place, the economy already has shifted.”

These experts stress that if business schools are to help workers stay up-todate, they’ll need to adapt their curricula to offer more flexible and accessible learning options, which can be more easily updated to stay responsive to industry. They will need to provide their students more opportunities—and even requirements—to pursue international study, take IT courses, and participate in project-based learning. Most important, business schools need to start preparing for the future today. Because in five or ten years, it just might be too late.