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The Financial Express

Addressing management skill gap

M. Rokonuzzaman | Published: May 23, 2016 20:11:29 | Updated: October 23, 2017 03:14:21


Addressing management skill gap
Although most of our university graduates are either unemployed or underemployed, a growing number of foreigners, in many cases with similar qualifications, are being recruited for management and advisory positions. It appears from media report that 200,000 foreign management professionals work in Bangladesh and they have been sending back home US$5 billion in each year. Such data indicate that on an average, each of these foreign professionals is sending US$25,000, as opposed to just US$1,500 that  Bangladesh receives from each Bangladeshi working abroad.
 Such high disparity of income level is attributed to gap of managerial skill primarily gained from on-job experience. Such management skills often cited are planning, communication, delegation, performance monitoring, control, knowledge management and decision-making.  Although many of our universities have been following state-of-the-art curricula following American Universities, such skill gap appears to be growing. There could be a question about quality of teaching of many newly-established public as well as private universities, but why are many resourceful public as well as private universities failing to produce graduates to rapidly grow up to hold those lucrative management positions? The challenge appears to enable our graduates to rapidly pick up capability to manage and improve production processes. 
To address this skill gap issue, some attempts are being taken. One of the notable ones is recent borrowing by the government, from foreign lenders, to provide skill development training. Steps are also being planned, including formation of accreditation council, to address the teaching quality of our universities. But, these steps are likely to fall short to help participants to rapidly pick up organisational production processes, establishing disciplines among different practices, defining, measuring and analysing performance data, and redefining work processes to improve performances. Such business process management capacity appears to be the core capability of managers, which is missing or weak in the ability toolbox of our graduates or professionals.  
Such critical process capability, having real-life operational aspects, could be obtained in two different ways. The first one is very common: long work experience under the supervision of expert managers to gain valuable 'tacit' knowledge. The second one is to have the capability of formally modelling business processes to articulate inter-relationships of diverse elements to grasp management role at much faster rate than the first one. The accumulated 'tacit' knowledge, earned through long association and experience, of our own and foreign managers should be codified into defined process knowledge. Once we provide training of how to understand work as a process to our graduates and management trainee, and engage them in modelling and analysing real-life operations as processes, the persisting managerial skill gap will likely start getting reduced at an accelerated rate. 
Any work process, whether producing a shirt or cleaning the floor, is defined through a set of policies, procedures and standards. Over the years, smart managers gain insights into the way works should be carried out to produce predictable as well as growing better results. These managers turn those insights into policies, procedures and standards. In many situations, such valuable elements remain unwritten, rather get embodied with senior managers-termed as tacit knowledge. Senior managers are valued for such precious tacit knowledge. As Bangladesh's track record in competitive production is rather short in comparison to many other countries, so we have scarcity of such management competence. To address this problem, we have to give time to our own junior professionals to transfer the precious tacit knowledge through long association with foreign managers. The obvious question: is there a way to reduce the time required to transfer the management tacit knowledge from foreigners? Fortunately, the answer is YES. Instead of just giving training on codified knowledge, written in text books, about diverse concepts of functional knowledge such as how to dye fabrics or do accounting, we have to provide them training on how to articulate real-life work activities as defined processes. Such process-centric articulation will enable them to quickly grasp the existing way the work is being decomposed into pieces, delegated each of those pieces to a worker or machine, monitored, analysed, supervised and controlled. Such process-centric capability will also enable them to rapidly to figure out the scope of improvement and transfer that scope into updated policies, procedures, standards and technology tools-turning individual's learning to organisational process capability.  
As a matter of fact, with the rapid expansion of production, many countries in the past experienced similar problems. To address such complexity of rapidly transferring valuable tacit knowledge from experienced managers to management trainees, global experts have developed a new discipline termed 'Business Process Reengineering (BPR)'. The advent of information technology accelerated this exercise though. The modelling of work as defined process appears to be precursor to understand intricacies of diverse unwritten rules, developed by managers over decades--defining the way work should be executed. Such work process models are found to be essential to assign roles to technology. It has been found that such approach of defining every piece of work, irrespective of complexity, into defined production process, also facilitates the articulation of tacit knowledge of senior managers and transfer them to junior managers at faster space. 
Despite rapid progress of our university education in Business, Computer Science, and Engineering, it has been learned that the process focus in defining and analysing work has been largely missing in our curricula. For this lack of process focus, not only it is taking a long time to transfer valuable tacit knowledge from foreign managers to our graduates, but we are also failing to intelligently integrate information technology into work processes. Due to such weak process capability, many of the high-end Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) IT projects are being executed by foreign professionals. Starting from 'as is' to 'to be' processing modelling, jobs in performing gap analysis and assigning roles to ERP applications are being mostly carried out by foreign professionals. As a result, even in such exercises, our own professionals are failing to take advantage of the arising scope of tacit knowledge transfer from foreign managers, working in those organisations.  
The issue is not only to accelerate the transfer of tacit knowledge from foreign managers to our graduates, but also to enable our graduates to lead the re-engineering of work processes to take growing advantage from information technology.  Such capability is vital to make our production capability competitive in this globally-connected economy. To address such burning issues, it may be a good idea to set up 'Work Process Reengineering and Skill Transfer' laboratories in selected universities. These laboratories will be established in partnership with concerned industries. In these laboratories, real-life work processes of target industries will be modelled, documenting the role of tacit knowledge of managers (mostly may be foreign though), in terms of policies, procedures and standards. Handbook of each real life work process will be developed to offer training to both fresh graduates as well as professionals. Such work processes models will be used in classroom to relate theories to practices.  These laboratories will engage industry professionals, academics and students to model, analyze and also to figure out ways to improve them. 
Along with business school, we should also develop Computer Science and Engineering because, most of the work processes could be improved by allocating roles to technology, primarily information technology. Such well-developed laboratories will serve multiple purposes. Modelling of real-life work processes will facilitate skill transfer from foreign managers. The process-centric understanding will lead to smarter use of information technology, better management and contiguous improvement. Real-life process insights exposed to Science and Engineering faculty and students will also likely lead to technology innovation. Moreover, it will address the academia-industry gap to enable our universities to produce appropriate human resources to drive our economic growth.
Although foreign professionals remit a large sum of foreign currency from Bangladesh, we need their expertise to support the rapid expansion of our private sector. Our challenge is to accelerate the transfer of their valuable management expertise to our professionals. 
The writer is Professor, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, North South University.
zaman.rokon.bd@gmail.com

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