Industry 4.0 and the emerging MBA graduate: Skills a management student needs to stay relevant

May 18, 2021 7:26 PM

The most successful enterprises of the future will rely on the workforce skill set that has the understanding and application of digital technology and managerial ability to link capacity building with business value.

To be a successful business leader one ought to be always on the learning mode.

By Dr Tapan K Panda

Revolutions are meant to alter routine paths and thoughts- so also industrial revolutions. The first industrial revolution was a transition from hand production to machine through the use of water and steam power. So it was a journey of workforce from fine handcrafting methods to steam power-based methods. The second industrial revolution was marked by the setting up of railroads and telegraph networks that made faster transfer of people and information. Increased electrification helped in developing modern production lines with rapid standardization, mass production, and distribution resulting in increased demand for skilled workers and a supervisory workforce with some knowledge on time, work, and motion management. The third industrial revolution is the beginning of the massive application of computing, information, and communication technology in production and business processes. This is the period of automation and yet machines being supervised by manpower. Machination was a tool for guiding and fastening business processes and an augmented skill for modern managers-operational decisions are still taken by human beings.

Industry 4.0 is the fourth industrial revolution which further automates manufacturing and business processes through the use of smart technology; large-scale machine to machine (M2M) communication without human interference and automated decision making through the application of intelligent decision support systems and artificial intelligence. The machines are equipped with more intelligent tools for improved communication, self-monitoring and proactive decision making through the use of the Internet of Things, robotics, and quantum computing tools.

Fear of job loss and lesser managerial intervention has started a debate on the role of new business managers in industry 4.0 environment. What kind of skills, managerial competencies, and work ethos the new MBAs should possess so that they stay relevant and play a strategic role in business decision making. If the routine and mundane work is being taken care of by machines, the new generation managers need to evolve to a higher and greater understanding and application of business. The managers of industry 4.0 need to have trans-disciplinary skills, knowledge, and aptitude through adaptive and cognitive learning, design thinking, collaborative skills, and higher aptitude for problem-solving. The current domain-centric MBA education has to undergo a drastic change and bring in learning from science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics for effective managerial decision making.

Industry 4.0 is likely to generate huge amounts of real-time data. A management student should have the ability to process and prioritize the information to identify patterns, recognize problems and design solutions, He should have the cognitive load management skills by which he can filter real-time data; find important and relevant information to maximize his cognitive function and reduce the risk of making inaccurate decisions. This demand for computational thinking that can build a student’s strength to translate these huge, complex datasets into meaningful decision inputs. The new generation MBA student should have the skill of both logical and database reasoning.

The majority of the problems we face today and that are going to emerge in the future are unstructured and non-routine in nature. The current classroom deliberations of analyzing structured problems and finding solutions will find lacking in the future. The MBA graduates need to acquire design thinking skills which shall build the ability to represent and design tasks and problems. Design thinking helps to break down a large, complex problem into smaller task assignments where the students can look at ‘the likelihood of occurrence’ and ‘potential risk/ return’ involved with the problems so that they can design solutions for these emerging problems.

Cognitive load management is another skill that will train a business school student to prioritize the information, challenge the status quo in diagnosing the business problems through cognitive thinking. They will learn how to discriminate, prioritize, challenge, and solve through risk/reward mapping and scenario building. The program should train the students to maximize their cognitive functions to understand how and why the automated processes in industry 4.0 functions.

The new MBA program should move from mere conceptual learning to both contextual and conceptual learning. This is called adaptive learning. The adaptive learning skills include three key dimensions namely functional, behavioral and technical skills. This demands the curriculum to include industry-specific digital skills not as an optional choice but as the core proposition of the program.

Virtual collaboration is going to be the practice of the future. The Internet itself along with the Internet of Things (IoT) and BlockChain Technology demands real-time and transparent information and transaction flows. So the new generation managers ought to learn about virtual collaboration within and across the organization. Tech-enabled social collaboration tools and team-based working can be taught to students through project-based learning. The students can be taught about teamwork by using social and collaborative technology through gamification. Students in the future are going to learn more from real-time projects by analyzing and solving live cases.

Learning about virtual collaboration shall automatically help the students to understand the importance of social intelligence. This learning will help them to comprehend and apply a new skill set based on the deeper meaning of individuals, relationships, and social networks. They will build the ability to sense and stimulate desired reactions for mindful interventions. Adaptive thinking will help them to come up with plausible solutions to business and social problems through a deeper understanding of what is being spoken/written about and what implications they have for the business.

The most successful enterprises of the future will rely on the workforce skill set that has the understanding and application of digital technology and managerial ability to link capacity building with business value. The industry will demand more remote and micro-learning from its managers than the ‘let’s make all know all’ model. The use of immersive technology and simulation inside the classroom will bring the business management curriculum closer to industry practices. Finally, the curriculum should teach the students on how to practice ‘life-long learning (3L)’. To be a successful business leader one ought to be always on the learning mode.

(The author is Professor and Director, Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Hyderabad Campus. Views expressed are personal.)

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