In India, management education has shown a rapid rise. From a few schools of management education in the 1960s, various counts show that the number may be as high as 7,000 if all approved and non-approved schools are included. Barring a few top schools, most find themselves unable to acquire trained faculty for students passing out from several of these colleges. Such students in turn find themselves poorer by several lakhs, and unable to find a job that would justify such expensive education. Just like engineering colleges are not able to find enough students in recent years, the same is likely to happen to the ever-mushrooming management schools. The challenge to management education is not only posed by the increasing numbers of colleges offering such education but also from the near-absence of thought towards making management education suited to the emerging context needs of Industry 4.0.
Management education gained prominence as societies industrialised and moved away from being agrarian. The distance from Industry 1.0 to 4.0 has been covered in less than 200 years. The changes in the industry lead to the focus of managers on efficiency and engagement of the people working in the factories. Principles of management advanced by Taylor and Fayol were suited to Industry 2.0 characterised by mechanisation. With the advent of computers, robots, and automation, Industry 3.0 heralded the management of the human-computer interface. Industry 4.0 marks the fusion of robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, genetic and quantum computing, and other technologies leading to the dissolving of boundaries between the physical, digital and biological world. To support Industry 4.0, managers increasingly need to focus on agility, flexibility, and resilience of the workforce. Newer ways of engaging with the world and the industry will be required by the workforce that is going to serve Industry 4.0.
According to the Future of Work Report published by the World Economic Forum 2020, the future for jobs is quite bleak. The study says, “Automation, in tandem with the Covid-19 recession, is creating a ‘double-disruption’ scenario for workers. In addition to the current disruption from the pandemic-induced lockdowns and economic contraction, technological adoption by companies will transform tasks, jobs, and skills by 2025. Forty-three per cent of businesses surveyed indicate that they are set to reduce their workforce due to technology integration, 41% plan to expand their use of contractors for task-specialised work, and 34% plan to expand their workforce due to technology integration. By 2025, the time spent on current tasks at work by humans and machines will be equal.”
Education can only remain relevant when it evolves along with the needs of society. Much like there has been an evolution of the industry, education has also transformed itself, albeit a little slowly. While education until now has been focused on rote memory, use of computers, creation, and dissemination of new knowledge, Education 4.0 has to be focused on innovation. Higher education has to prepare students to learn to perform jobs in the future that most of us know little about.
To buttress my argument, I want to present an experience. I had the opportunity to visit one such factory (which in my limited vision would be representative of the future of work). This factory was situated in the middle of a dusty industrial estate in the northern part of India. Around 10 per cent of its employees were very educated and very well-heeled and the rest 90 per cent were contract employees who changed almost by 20 per cent each week, and were mostly semi-literate and first-generation workers who mostly worked in the farms around the industrial estate. The factory used automated high-precision methods and created for the entire world very cheap components which were of 99.99 per cent quality expected by the users. As people walked into the factory, they not only deposited all their belongings, they had to walk through an air shower which took off all the dust from them, and then wear an overcoat and change shoes. They signed in their names and were given a number each day as they walked in and were told which department they needed to go to. The mass of people in white overcoats would then walk into the long sheds through two air showers to reach their workplace. The inside of the factory was more like a hospital with long green corridors and white ceilings. The place was dustless and flooded with white light all through day and night. All you could hear was the whirr of machines and people working quietly almost in reverence to the machines, it appeared. Every room had dust and humidity meters, and the person showing me the factory told me that even if four people spoke too much, the humidity went up. A warning light would go up and the people present had to stop talking. Every time someone needed a break, they had to walk out of the sanitised zone and use the washroom, have a cup of tea or sip of water, and then walk back through the air showers to their location. The breaks were monitored centrally and if someone took more than six breaks throughout the day, they were told to get better and come back when they knew they could do an eight-hour shift with six breaks or less. The large robotic arms and the automated pickers were awe-inspiring and depressing at the same time.
Management education has to build the skills of its students to think critically, problem-solve, design think, develop empathy, be comfortable with feeling insignificant, understand technology, develop people skills to manage newer work arrangements better, ground themselves in the values of life and living
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In my discussions with the senior management of the above factory, it became clear that there was a high rate of burnout among the middle-level managers; there was the search for the right amount of personalisation and depersonalisation; while ensuring that people’s behaviour and biases did not interfere with the functioning of the machines, there was enough importance given to the human being operating it. Controls needed to be put in place to ensure compliance and yet the controls needed to be humane to ensure self-acceptance of the measures needed for the factory to function. The stark contrast of the behaviour of the people (quiet, meticulous, and finicky) and the environs (clean and dustless) of the factory being totally different from the outside behaviour of its bulk of employees (boisterous and carefree) and environment (dusty and disorganised) was not lost on the senior management. Some of the conversations that these managers were engaging in were futuristic in nature, and conversations that I had never heard other managers have. My belief is that management educators need to be able to train managers of the future to have some of these conversations and make decisions that would serve the needs of the industry and the people working in those.
In the future where there will be greater machine-to-machine interaction and fewer people in the workplace, what will be the role of the manager? Would managers who know technology be better suited and placed? Would technologists be more prominent than managers?
What might be the accurate answers to these, only time will tell. At this time, we can only guess. People who understand technology would be valuable, but that does not mean that the entire workforce will be technologists. In the principle of simultaneity, the creation, integration, and adoption of technology, the creation of protocols for use of technology, and humanising of the workplace for those who are interfacing with the technology are all equally important. Except for the creation of technology, all the other aspects of managing the future workplace managers would be the domain of management professionals. While even in the current context managers are trained to manage several aspects of the workplace, the humanising of the workplace is going to be a key issue. Unfortunately, not much attention to management education goes into it.
At the Toyota factory that I had the opportunity to visit out of Osaka in Japan, there is a building full of 2,000 engineers and designers, a stone’s throw from their original plant location, and a very efficient assembly line. The person who showed the factory spoke of the increasing number of designers Toyota was hiring in the recent past. The designers were not those who were only looking at making the cars aesthetically pleasant, but they were looking at design issues posed by increasing automation, by exploring technologies for more environment-friendly cars, for issues that would emerge from human-car interaction of roads with driverless cars. While the assembly lines are becoming more advanced and have fewer people, the number of engineers and designers has increased and is playing a valuable role in designing the lines, interactions, responses, etcetera. Managers who have developed design sensibilities and the capacity to anticipate and identify problems through skills of observation and problem-solving would be valuable.
Thus, management schools will need to prepare managers who can think critically, problem-solve, are ready to engage with emerging philosophical questions, who can speak and understand the language of technology, who can help in managing rapid change, who can be comfortable in not knowing and be ready to switch often between being the expert and the learner.
What does all this translate to for management education? Management education has to build the skills of its students to think critically, problem-solve, design think, develop empathy, be comfortable with feeling insignificant, understand technology, develop people skills to manage newer work arrangements better, ground themselves in the values of life and living. While this is an impressive list, any educator would know that this is easier said than done. Faculty at management schools have very little experience of the realities outside of their disciplines. The “publish or perish” culture has made the faculty inward-looking. There are enough of us management educators to create a community that can endlessly talk to each other and compete with each other with no relevance to the field we serve.
Unless management educators embrace the need of the hour as posed by Industry 4.0 to understand and innovate, we will not be able to prepare the workforce of the future. Innovative thinking is required on the part of the faculty to teach basic skills to the managers of the future, who will need to learn to be innovative. While the case study was an excellent innovation in management pedagogy, it needs to also undergo innovation given that the context and our recipients have changed. Both the format of the case study and the expected education outcomes from it have to change. The traditional 25-page, 20,000-word case study with a lot of information, a norm in most courses, has to change. Faculty has to think of less text-heavy, multimedia cases with endless possibilities of going deeper as per the interest of the student. The case study method took the focus away from rote memory and pivoted on decision-making. The pedagogy of today has to focus on teaching problem identification and design thinking to solve problems. The crafting of solutions is at least as important as, if not more than, decision-making (which was the focus of the case study method in its prime). The faculty have to go out more, have real interactions with the industry, and engage in crafting solutions to vexing problems to be able to speak meaningfully to the students in management classrooms. Management schools need to not only encourage industry engagement but accord weight to it as it does towards research and publication in peer-reviewed journals.
Management pedagogy and education delivery is also complicated by the fact that several people seated in the classroom belong to Generation Z. Several of our students are already operating in an Industry 4.0 environment, and we cannot impose our traditional ways of doing things. The do-it-yourself generation has to be taught and trained differently. Possibilities of personalisation of material offered to students have to be thought through. Unless management faculty wakes up and innovates as to how it will teach the more difficult skills that AI/ML have not yet mastered and that make us distinctly human, management schools will become superfluous.
Education, overall, has to rise to meet the challenges of Industry 4.0—I would say management education definitely has to wake up and smell the roses before it is too late.