In the digital age, the Johannesburg Business School (JBS), a faculty of the University of Johannesburg, is a new kind of business school for a new era. Rapid technological change, especially in response to Covid-19, is redefining the entire business landscape, and not only are new skills required to navigate this environment, but so is a new approach to business education.
A more flexible, future-fit approach is essential to ensure that executive education, in particular, is more specific to organisational strategy and individual roles.
In a digitally disrupted context, it needs to deliver not only job-related skills, but also the broader range of digital, interdisciplinary, interpersonal and management skills needed for businesses to thrive within the context of 4IR. This new approach is especially relevant given the accelerated pace of digitalisation over the past two years, which has brought entirely different ways of working and significant changes in socio-economic behaviour.
Today, business success depends on a digitally savvy, decentralised and cooperative workforce that interacts with colleagues, customers and other stakeholders in a new way. Similarly, it depends on leaders who can navigate the complexity of this environment and guide and motivate teams in ways they can relate and respond to. And, as each business has unique challenges, building skill, flexibility and resilience has to be form-fitted to those challenges.
“Especially when it comes to ongoing education for executives, the one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t cut it,” says Tumi Nkosi, Director of Executive Education and Programmes at JBS. “Businesses operating in such a constantly changing environment need a new kind of leader. They need leaders who are multi-disciplinary in approach, solutions-focused and digitally astute.
“That’s why both our Management Acceleration Programme (MAP+) and our organisation-specific programmes are designed to be relevant to the real world of business. They’re also designed to accommodate existing executives as well as the pipeline of leaders of the future.”
Strategically aligned to the World Economic Forum Reskilling Revolution, which aims to provide one billion people with better education, skills and jobs by 2030, JBS works closely with client companies to develop customised programmes that address their unique issues and challenges.
“There’s a lot of consultation during the assessment and planning process,” says Nkosi, “and various departments across the organisation are involved in developing the multi-disciplinary programmes we offer. It’s important to us that our clients feel a sense of ownership over these programmes and that they are developed to meet their requirements.”
The skills challenges that both individual businesses and South Africa as a country face, she says, is twofold.
“There is a very real difference between being unemployed and being unemployable. Unemployed people with skills appropriate to contemporary business can be reabsorbed into the workforce as work becomes available.
We are, however, facing another – even greater – issue than unemployment in South Africa: the fact that many people of working age are becoming unemployable due to their lack of digital skills. The unemployability issue is why business schools have to become more accessible to employees throughout the organisation, and why the courses and programmes we offer have to have a strong digital skills component.”
It is also why businesses are looking for programmes that facilitate a change in mindset among their employees, a more contemporary and relevant way of looking at business.
“Businesses facing some of the most significant challenges of a generation have very definite requirements,” says Nkosi. “They want to focus on ways of thinking as well as on developing and strengthening skills sets. Above all, they need quick turnarounds; shorter programmes that enable their employees to plug right back into the business on completion and make an immediate and real difference to the way things are done. They want a real and measurable ROI.”
Organisations of all sizes recognise the need for a paradigm shift in how they are organised and managed. And from a skills point of view, their focus is on getting ready for digital transformation which requires digital literacy, cloud computing; Big Data and data analytics; data security; artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Internet of Things (IoT).
“4IR represents a fundamental change in the way in which we live, work and relate to one another,” says Nkosi. “It is ushering in a new chapter in human development that promises major benefits, but which is also exceptionally disruptive. Like all other educational institutions, business schools need to adapt to this reality and cater for the changing needs of their clients, their employees and society as a whole.
“That’s what we at JBS are in the business of doing.”