Start them young(er): Education overlooks global sustainability

IBM survey of university students suggests today's education system ill-prepares them for the real-world career priorities of globalization, corporate sustainability.

About a month ago, my blogging partner Joe McKendrick wrote about an IBM CEO survey of about 1,500 leaders that was a gauge of the qualities they believed necessary to lead well. There actually is a parallel companion survey that has just been released, "Inheriting a Complex World: Future Leaders Envision Sharing the Planet," reflecting the views of more than 3,000 university students in more than 40 countries.

Why should you care about what they think? Because within four years, these "Millennials" will make up approximately half of the global workforce. They will either be working for you or they will be your boss.

Like the CEOs, the student respondents stressed creativity as the most "important emerging competency" of future leaders. They also were very clear in their belief that information technology is a critical tool that can help address issues both in business and in our culture. I believe these two sentiments work very much in parallel: By letting technology deal with the analytical side of things, managers and business leaders can focus on creative collaboration to mold strategy.

But one very troubling response was the fact that only 40 percent of the students believe that their education has prepared them to deal with sustainability concerns. The chart below illustrates the percentage of students from the IBM survey who feel their formal education has prepared them adequately for dealing with the issue at hand.

This post is about sustainability, of course, but also take note of the other topics below. You hear pretty much every major technology company, especially Cisco and Microsoft, trumpeting the holy grail of collaboration as the future of business. Yet, only 64 percent of the students in this survey said their education has prepared them for this. So your company may need to step in and fill the breach.

Getting deeper into the role of technology: The surveyed students were skeptical of the use of "gut instinct" to make business decisions, saying they prefer to use informed data analysis to make their decisions.

This actually could be the single biggest difference between how we make decisions now and how we make decisions in the future. More often than not the current generation relies on guidance from historical precedents. By pulling business intelligence from real-time data, we can instead key in on the future possibilities.

Another major difference between the opinions of today's CEOs and tomorrow's future leaders: Twice as many students cited globalization and environmental issues as one of the top three factors that will impact business organizations. Resource scarcity is a theme they encounter throughout their careers.

By the way, the opinions on this were more divergent in the United States than any other region. There, the students were three times as the CEOs to believe that natural resource scarcity is a major business concern and 60 percent more students than CEOs believe that customer expectations regarding corporate social responsibility will increase "significantly."

Whom do you think is more in touch with reality? Consider the recent public demeanor of BP CEO Tony Hayward and the related public response, and I think you have your answer.

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