Ahmed Shaikh, Regent Business School director. Picture: Jackie Clausen/Sunday Times
Ahmed Shaikh, Regent Business School director. Picture: Jackie Clausen/Sunday Times

Are business schools too busy playing with “toys and technology” to recognise that they need to fundamentally change what they teach, asks Regent Business School director Ahmed Shaikh.

Lockdowns and social distancing have forced schools to accept a wholesale shift to online teaching. All say they have made the transition successfully. But maybe, says Shaikh, it’s time to start paying more attention to what they teach rather than how they teach it. “Technology is an enabler, not an end in itself. It’s just a tool.”

Many teach business and management skills that are no longer suited to the future. Over half of SA’s young people are unemployed. A growing number are college and university graduates who find their qualifications don’t meet the needs of the work environment.

Globally, says Shaikh, 1-billion trained people need to be reskilled by 2030 in order to remain employable. In SA, the number runs into millions. Lockdown has fundamentally changed the way business operates. Many people who work from home instead of the office will probably continue to do so after the pandemic is over. So why train them, or the managers who oversee them, as if nothing has changed?

Human resources training, for example, needs to be overhauled. “You have staff at home and in the office. What does this mean for decision-making? Without seeing everyone every day, how do you measure performance? How do staff interact with line managers? Does that office need to stay open? There is so much disruption.”

He adds: “This is the time for curricular reform. If we are a supplier to a labour market that has changed, it can’t be business as usual. Where is the student in the planning of teaching strategy? Is the curriculum fit for purpose? Is it set up for student success? All our schools need to have deep conversations about these issues.”

Regent’s mantra is “disrupt, rethink, innovate”.  It favours hands-on training. “Skills are best taught by doing,” says Shaikh.

He also advocates more focus on lifelong learning, through which people regularly update their business skills and knowledge to keep pace with change. Shaikh says: "I don’t think business schools have paid enough attention to lifelong learning. A lot of people feel vulnerable because of shifts in industry. We have to think ahead. We can’t just react to the market."

Covid-19 has made the situation more urgent. “We no longer have an option. We can’t afford to waste a day.”

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