Aug 302012

Today’s Globe and Mail had an interesting article entitled Why are we training our arts grads to be baristas? The gist of it, for those who don’t want to read it, is a lament for non-practically trained (i.e., not business (under)grads or engineers) university graduates being shunted from productive higher-paying jobs in favour of those MBAs and engineers, and professional school finishers.

The story is directed to the economics and so on of why this is a terrible situation not only for those underemployed but also for Canadian society at large, which ultimately funds higher education, and the employers passing up these people.  For the employers, the argument is that these folks bring with them everything that employers say they want except for instant work-readiness–something that business training provides allegedly.

My take was a little different.  And, for those who know me, no, this will not merely be another anti-MBA rant.  Except that in a way, and in keeping with my beliefs, it is just that.

While the author of the article makes good points and arguments, I think that there is much more damage going on by this practice (which I religiously oppose in all of my own hiring preferences and actions),  especially as it applies to the MBA-holding candidate bias. To that end, let me make one entirely different argument for why the current bias toward business grads–especially MBAs–and against arts or music or science grads is regressive and suboptimal.  It has to do with innovation.

The syllogism is straight forward.

Premise:  Innovation is based on the unusual connection of disparate pieces into combinations that unlock new value.  This can be by both bringing new knowledge into the system/situation or by perceiving the system/situation differently.

Premise:  MBAs in particular and representing those favoured training programs, are given a high-level trade training (which is what makes them job-ready in business) which is consistent with the best practices of the trade.

Premise:  It is alleged that post-secondary students are all taught to think (including business students), the ratio of critical thinking training to trade training in the desired programs is well below one wheres in the arts and sciences exceeds 1, sometimes by a margin that nears infinity.  (For those struggling to keep up:  in some arts programs there is NO trade training per se, only ongoing training to think for yourself.)

Conclusion:  Therefore, if innovation requires high doses of both different thinking and critical thinking the most likely candidates to achieve that would be anybody but the graduates of the more favoured programs such as MBAs.

QED.  And I would presume the reasoning is obvious.

So, not only would looking harder at archeology and biochemistry graduates keep them from behind the espresso maker, it would also raise the potential for innovation by the employer’s organization.

Just a thought.



 Posted by on 30 Aug 2012

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