How can young professionals entering the workforce be prepared for a post-COVID world?
COVID-19 has resulted in ongoing changes in global business, leading companies to reassess costs and strategies, including those around the future of work and the changing nature of jobs. Living through an economic downturn may not be easy for young professionals about to enter the workforce, but it presents them with opportunities to acquire and develop skills required for the ‘new normal’.
For young professionals, it is about persevering in this climate, says Katy Montgomery, Associate Dean of Degree Programmes at INSEAD Business School, and about staying committed to learning and preparing for the changed realities of a post-COVID economy.
“I think we didn’t realise that COVID-19 would last this long and that it isn’t just about resilience, but about perseverance,” she says.
Preparing for changes in the economy
INSEAD, the global business school, has been quick to respond. Its new Masters in Management (MIM) programme is based on a “curriculum built around what employers needed”, allowing fresh graduates “to really hit the market and be able to add value at a young age”, says Montgomery.
INSEAD says its conversations with its global network of 62,000 alumni across 176 countries, companies and recruiters indicate strong demand for young professionals who already understand some nuances of the business world. Through this programme, which is designed on feedback from employers, INSEAD aspires to fill a gap in the job market.
One of the big changes being witnessed is accelerated digitalisation, which has been the answer to many pandemic-induced disruptions. Even before COVID-19 struck, the trend towards digital had begun, and it has gathered steam over the past year. Understanding the implications of this shift is important for young professionals because it is shaping the way business is done.
“We knew that one has to be able to collaborate, self-express appropriately and manage remotely, and not just in person,” says Montgomery.
The pervasiveness of technology and digitalisation in day-to-day life also demands empathy and a more pronounced role for emotional intelligence in how teams are managed. The way we communicate, socialise and interact has forever been changed.
From phenomena like Zoom fatigue, to employees having to become accustomed to limited physical contact, COVID-19 is having implications on the well-being of people. Understanding these traits is important for young graduates as they prepare to enter the workforce.
Responding to real-world needs
Once students graduate from the MIM programme, they will be well prepared for an increasingly dynamic work environment and ready to take on a variety of roles. This is made possible by a mix of high-quality teaching methods, diversity in cultures and ideas, and distinguishing features such as practicals and workshops.
Practicals and workshops push students to translate their classroom learning into practice in real-life scenarios and are central to the MIM programme.
“The practicals allow students to put theory into practice for two weeks in each module,” says Montgomery. They focus on areas such as identifying new business models, negotiations, valuing innovation and leveraging data for marketing science. Hands-on exercises provide students with glimpses into real-life work scenarios.
“It’s like trying to create the most extreme circumstances to see whether students can remain calm and composed. The students are presented with a number of pain points that create a pressure cooker-like situation,” she adds.
Workshops, meanwhile, teach students to articulate solutions and convince people to implement them. They are focused on integrated problem-solving, data visualisation and corporate communications.
The idea is to start the training of these professionals so the learning curve is not as steep when they arrive at organisations, Montgomery says. This works well for companies that “would love to have people at entry level to do the work, but without much hand-holding”.
The importance of flexibility
With the changing nature of work, the demand for skilled graduates with a thorough understanding of business management and exposure to diverse disciplines at entry level positions is growing. This is partly because work responsibilities are no longer set in stone.
As the lines between different work functions blur and we see the emergence of integrated teams cutting across disciplines, it is important that young employees possess a broad understanding of management and the ability to take on different roles at short notice.
Tomorrow's professionals must also be able to switch between roles and adapt to evolving requirements of a business.
The pandemic has shown how many businesses have had to pivot differently in order to remain viable — be it by extending new services, venturing into new products, improving service delivery or by taking their businesses online. In this context, employee flexibility is critical.
INSEAD’s MIM programme effectively prepares graduates to be agile. It also gives graduating students flexibility because “it doesn’t lock anyone in a first career”, says Montgomery.
Launching a global career
Organisations are always looking to hire people who can innovate and think originally, and the focus on these attributes has sharpened in light of the pandemic’s impact on businesses and the economy.
INSEAD’s MIM programme hones these attributes in its young graduates.
Says Montgomery: “I think these students who are going into the market are going to be such amazing — for lack of a better term — 'bang for the buck’ for companies that hire them, because they’re going to get more than they ever expected.”