Are B-Schools Ready for the Millennials?

The next wave of MBA students””the so-called “millennials”””has arrived, leaving business schools to ponder the unique traits of this Internet generation”¦and adjust their programs accordingly. Millennials, defined roughly as anyone born between 1980 and 2002, bring a never-before-seen attitude to their work and studies, rooted in an upbringing of playdates, helicopter parents, and constant feedback and praise for their accomplishments. A recent Wall Street Journal interview with Daphne Atkinson, vice president for industry relations at the Graduate Management Admission Council, explores the impact this generation has on business schools and beyond.

Some excerpts:

WSJ: Are millennials as interested in an MBA degree as previous generations?

Ms. Atkinson: A segment of this generation will definitely gravitate to b-school, in part because of their interest in lucrative careers and the connection between earning power and the lifestyle they want. But this is a generation inundated with information that has developed very sophisticated screening mechanisms. So getting to them is a challenge.

WSJ: Are schools encountering new challenges in teaching these multitasking technology whizzes?

Ms. Atkinson: Some schools are looking at new approaches in the classroom, such as the use of a talk-show format that allows for different points of view and more interaction than a straight lecture. There also are classroom role-playing simulations that are more personal and interactive than a printed case study. And some schools are even introducing games to engage millennials. At the same time, millennials’ multitasking is driving some instructors wild.

WSJ: What do you believe will be the millennials’ biggest contributions to companies?

Ms. Atkinson: I would say probably their skill in integrating technology seamlessly and their optimism. They also are quite serious about reforming the work environment for more flexibility and reasonable hours to accommodate their personal goals and interests. Unlike baby boomers who talked about work-life balance but weren’t wholehearted about achieving it, these young people will insist on it.

WSJ: What deficiencies do employers see in millennials?

Ms. Atkinson: While millennials bring skills in multitasking, technology and working in teams, they tend to demonstrate less ability in oral and written communications and interpersonal interaction. They also have been socialized since childhood to get constant feedback and are going to look for it in the workplace too. As a result, some employers consider them high maintenance. But if everyone can agree on the terms of the feedback, it could be a superb tool for managing performance.

According to an earlier article in the WSJ, schools are starting to become more technology savvy to attract this digital generation. Some b-school Web sites feature blogs and online chats and allow applicants to check their acceptance status online 24/7. But MBA programs may have to go further, creating promotional podcasts for prospective students to download to their iPods, for example, and making admission officials available for instant messaging.

But, wonders, what of the obtrusive parental involvement in the millennial student’s life? Graduate level students are adults who are expected to be capable of making independent adult decisions. Prospective students who walk into events holding their parent’s hand (so to speak) present a poor impression of their independence and decision making capacities.

Harvard, meanwhile, is capitalizing on the best and brightest of this generation by introducing the HBS 2+2 Program: two years of work, then two years of immersion in the Harvard Business School MBA Program. In order to be eligible for the 2+2 Program, you must be a current college junior with at least one remaining semester, after July 2008, necessary for the completion of your degree. HBS career coaches help program participants navigate their job search and introduce them to a wide network of recruiting partners to fulfill the two years of employment requirement. Interestingly, the 2+2 Program is primarily targeted towards students who are not already on a business track (i.e. students studying the liberal arts, sciences, engineering, etc.).

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