More than 80 business school deans and delegates from across the Asia-Pacific gathered in Sydney to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing students in a rapidly changing work world.

The annual two-day meeting, hosted by UNSW Business School, saw representatives of the Association of Asia-Pacific Business Schools (AAPBS) arrive in Sydney to examine matters such as the impact of the gig economy, hybrid workforce, AI and big data.

"There were some very important take-aways for business schools, as well as for universities more broadly," Professor Chris Styles, Dean UNSW Business School said.

"First, the work world that our graduates are entering is rapidly changing in fundamental, and not always predictable ways.

"Second, we will face increasing demand for content that is packaged in ways other than traditional degree structures. What this means is that as well as continuing to innovate in terms of course content and modes of delivery, we will also need to be innovative in regard to how we modularise our content."

"We may need to offer our respective markets much more that is in short course form, leading to greater focus on what are sometimes called micro-credentials rather than continuing to have as dominant a focus on two- and three-year degrees."

The primary purpose of the AAPBS is to provide leadership and representation to advance the quality of business and management education in the Asia-Pacific region. 

The future of universities

Business deans from more than 30 different countries shared their extensive and diverse experiences, and key presentations were made by a range of speakers from academia, professional service firms, venture capitalists and start-ups.

The Annual Meeting builds on UNSW Business School's focus on high impact research and sustainable two-way engagement with Asia and aligns with the university's 2025 Strategy to position the Sydney institution as 'Australia's Global University'.  

In a session entitled 'Challenges and Opportunities for Universities and Business Schools' moderated by UNSW Business School's Professor Nick Wailes, Catherine Friday, Partner, Oceania Education at EY, highlighted the 'five transformative external forces' driving change in higher education: the rise of continuous learning, changing world of work, evolving digital behavior, blurring industry boundaries and increasing international competition.

"We now have an entire set of associate gig contractors who choose to work on some of our jobs that are of particular interest to them but have no interest of being full-time employees of the big four firms or working for large corporates," Ms Friday said.    

"They are happy to trade their skills for the sorts of engagements they are interested in over the course of their careers.  The learning experiences they need as graduates and undergraduates are therefore vastly different from those of who went to universities and did 3-4 year degrees and maybe topped up a little bit along the way."

Catherine was the lead author on EY's 2018 thought leadership paper, The University of the Future.  Her clients include the State and Federal Departments of Education and Go8 (Group of Eight, a coalition of leading Australian universities, including UNSW Sydney).

"To succeed, they will need to deconstruct the higher-education value chain, offering new formats such as unbundled degree programs, continuous subscription-based learning, and just-in-time learning options," Ms Friday said.

The workforce of the future

With this year's principal theme being 'the Future of Work', the 2018 AAPBS Annual Meeting saw network members and industry experts converse about the common problematic areas facing business schools today.

Dr Simon Blackburn, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company said his company's research showed, up to 375 million workers across the globe may need to switch occupations or significantly up skill by 2030.

He commented, "We're hiring very different people…more than half of the work we're doing today for clients is work we did not do at all seven years ago.  So, there's a huge disruption that we're experiencing in our own business."

Dr Blackburn, who spent 11 years at McKinsey's Boston office as a leader of their High Tech practice prior to returning to Australia in 2008, suggested that 'new jobs' would be different and skewed towards specialist skills – expertise, interaction and management.  Activities entailing processing and collecting data, along with predictable physical labour would decrease significantly.

Dr Ben Hamer, Director within the People and Organisation consulting practice at PwC, partners with public and private sector clients to help them plan for, design, and transition towards their workforce of the future.

Dr Hamer, said employees want choice and control and employers need to focus on people rather than their roles.

"By 2020, one out of three of skills considered important today will have become redundant putting an increased value on cognitive flexibility and problem-solving," Dr Hamer said. 

"By 2025, Millennials will account for 75 per cent of the workforce.  One thing is clear – if organisations are unable to attract, develop and retain the required Millennial talent in a competitive environment, they will not survive."

Digital changes everything

During the final day of the meeting former Managing Director of Facebook Australia, Stephen Scheeler took the stage to offer insights and potential solutions to organisations facing immediate disruption.

In 2017 Mr Scheeler was appointed Executive-in-Residence at the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM). He also founded The Digital CEO and is a Senior Advisor to McKinsey & Company.

Mr Scheeler said the digital world has profoundly changed five things: speed of information, removal of boundaries, fuel (or data) for businesses, culture and talent.

"At Facebook, we think these are the elements that are the most important in leadership: speed, customer obsession, data dexterity, adaptability, transparency, humility, curiosity, and vision," Mr Scheeler said. 

"Every leader we build today we need to build for the 21st century and really challenge ourselves about saying, what is not good enough to survive? To make sure we are building leaders that are successful for this era and who won't end up on the scrap heap."

UNSW Business School's Professor Styles emphasised the importance of engaging with international counterparts and industry, "What stood out for me about this year's Meeting was the high level of industry involvement.  The majority of the speakers were from the business world and this provided the platform for a very market-focused conversation amongst business deans and industry representatives."

The 140 AAPBS members will next meet in May 2019 for an academic conference.  It will be hosted by Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU) in Beppu, on the island of Kyushu in Japan.