McKinsey’s Global Chief Learning Officer Talks Business Schools & Big Data

Nick van Dam says business schools must ramp up their focus on digital skills and big data analytics

Nick van Dam, partner and global chief learning officer at McKinsey & Company, has called for business schools to ramp up their focus on digital skills and big data.

In 2013, a future of work study by professors at the University of Oxford estimated that 47% of jobs in the US were at risk of being automated by 2023. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs study says 5 million jobs will be lost in the next two years.

At the same time, in Europe, 44% of adults lack digital skills—around 170 million people. And nearly one-third of Americans lack the skills to use cutting-edge, Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

Jobs are changing and business schools need to adapt.

“Today, nobody should graduate from business school—at undergraduate or graduate level—with no understanding of digitization, analytics, and big data,” Nick explains, speaking to me at the MERIT Summit on executive education in Lisbon in January this year.

“Like accounting, supply chain, and marketing, digitization should be part of the curriculum at every business school.”

The world, Nick says, is at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. By 2030, there’ll be mass-automatization and a massive shift in the skills that professionals need. Countries that are fast-adopters of new technology, and have the people that understand the new technology, will be successful in transforming the workforce and creating more jobs.

Alongside digital skills, in a rapidly changing world, human ‘soft’ skills become even more important. Skills like creativity—in a 2010 survey of over 1,500 CEOs conducted by IBM, 60% cited creativity as the most important leadership quality.

“The jobs most at risk of automation are those where you have a higher level of predictive physical work. Those least at risk are related to managing people,” Nick explains.

“Machines, also, aren’t great at creativity and ideation—that’s unique to us as humans. It’s important that we develop those capabilities because ideation drives innovation, and innovation is the only way companies will survive,” he continues.

“What companies expect from business schools now more than before is that they develop these human competencies in their students; through working in teams, connecting with companies, and creating a real-life work experience.”

Nick is an award-winning thought leader in the learning and development space; the author and co-author of over 20 books. He founded his own nonprofit—e-Learning for Kids—which provides free digital lessons for 20 million underprivileged children. He’s also an associate professor at Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands and the University of Pennsylvania.

Indeed, McKinsey has close relationships with business schools around the world. It’s the biggest recruiter of MBA graduates globally.

McKinsey’s also developed its own Mini-MBA program, a two-week crash course in business bringing in faculty from different business schools. Last year, McKinsey's Partner University program—designed to upskill partners in digitization and analytics—was delivered at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Oxford in the UK.

Even when less experienced recruits join McKinsey in an analyst role, Nick explains, many of them go back to business school to do an MBA, funded by McKinsey.

But, as McKinsey diversifies, MBA-holders are less dominant across the organization as a whole. McKinsey acquired two design companies last year—US-based LUNAR and Veryday in Sweden—that now form part of McKinsey Design. McKinsey Digital is growing too, using new technology to help companies digitize their business processes.

Technology, naturally, plays a key role within learning and development at McKinsey, which recently developed a virtual reality tool to take trainee consultants through every stage of the production line at a manufacturing plant.

“McKinsey has diversified a lot,” Nick explains. “In the past, you may have thought about McKinsey as a strategy consulting firm—that’s just one part of our business today.”

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