Why isn’t the UK developing effective managers?

Despite the importance attached to obtaining a recognised management qualification, it would seem UK employers do not think having a particular piece of paper is necessarily an indication that a candidate can manage in the field.

Research from Brunel University and Birbeck College has found that, although HR and development managers are increasingly asking for management qualifications when recruiting candidates into managerial positions, they attach more credence to on-the-job experience and the development that trainee managers receive in-house.

These apparently contradictory findings have been plucked from a survey that took in the opinions of line- and HR development managers from 600 European companies.

Lack of experience

According to Matias Ramirez, a lecturer at Brunel Business School and co-author of the report, the UK’s attitude to managerial qualifications reflects the lack of real-life management experience offered by today’s management courses.

He says management qualifications at undergraduate, MSc and MBA level offer little in the way of vocational experience. “With the decline of apprenticeships, it is really only NVQs which offer a high level of work-based training,” says Ramirez.

The inability of management courses to produce the skills required also reflects a disconnect between what businesses require and what providers of qualifications are offering. “We do not have a good history of joined-up thinking in this regard,” he says. “There seems to a patchwork of organisations and pressure groups which don’t work together well.”   

Benchmark for development

At the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), Victoria Winkler, an adviser on learning, training and development, says Ramirez’s findings do not show that employers think management qualifications are worthless. Rather, they indicate that qualifications are regarded as a required benchmark from which further development is required.

“Gaining a management qualification should be seen as the first step in a manager’s development not the completion of his or her training,” she says.

According to Winkler, if employers are not getting what they want from educational institutes, they should be more vocal about their requirements.

She points to skills councils and sector skills development agencies as relatively new initiatives that promise to bring business and academia closer together in order to deliver the managerial proficiencies required by today’s organisations.

Sector skills agencies

But Neil Bentley, head of skills and employment at the CBI, says the employer-led sector skills development agencies must ensure they don’t just reflect the views of the vociferous few.

“If they are to succeed they must take in the view of the wider employer community,” he says.

According to Bentley, the fact that management courses do not churn out the finished product is how it has always been. Qualifications, he says, have always acted as indicators of potential leaders of the future whose skills are then honed by getting their hands dirty when they start work.   

But, says Bentley, much of what is gleaned at business school is vital in the continual development of management thinking in this country.

“How else would progressive management techniques such as total quality management, waste management, and just-in-time management make it the world of business,” he says.


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