Recruiting season will soon be upon us and so will everyone's predictions, both calculated and speculative. And in the center of the mayhem will be freshly-minted MBAs. As they approach the last months of their semesters, news has been constantly pouring in about new CSR and sustainability courses being added both as electives and as mandatory classes.
Last week, this gradually burgeoning group added another member: MIT Sloan's School of Management announced a Certificate of Sustainable Business for their MBA students. It doesn't take too many guesses to realize that more and more business schools are adding these responsible modules as a response to demand from students and some demand from the business community. However, here is the million-dollar question: Are these new specializations facing equal face time at the time of recruitment? Or are the employers demanding CSR knowledge from their new hires?
The WSJ addresses this emerging conundrum today in an aptly titled article: "Sustainability is a Growing Theme." Growing indeed, but only as a "theme" or the idea of doing good. Because when these students face recruiters, there aren't many takers. As the article points out, "The effort is being met with both gratitude and skepticism from business schools, which say that despite the emphasis on integrating these hot-button topics into the curriculum, it's business as usual at recruiting time. Few hiring managers, they say, ask students about corporate-responsibility training or indicate it's a priority."
What companies are choosing to do instead, is train current employees in environmental footprint and sustainability. This relatively low cost, in-house training, however, is leading to paying mere lip service to sustainability and not addressing it as an essential part of their long term strategy and making it definable in business terms. The companies that have successfully launched sustainability initiatives are the handful that have seen the direct impact on their bottom line and brand awareness like Dow Chemicals and Pepsi.
So, why the demand but not the final appreciation for the new courses? The Journal article quotes Intel's director of social responsibility strategy and communication, Suzanne Fallender, who is a frequent speaker at business schools, saying that the skills aren't needed to be hired into a post-M.B.A. job. ""I think we are far off from seeing it [as part of] the job requirements." And here lies the disconnect. Enthusiasm in the classroom and student demand when not translated into welcoming reception from the recruiters will eventually die down. By sending mixed messages, companies are not only hurting their brand perception but ignoring a key population of environmentally-conscious workers acutely aware of the need for accountability and transparency, and who will increasingly fill the gaps as more boomers retire.
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