Have you ever had to eat humble pie? Let me tell you a quick story about how I had to eat one. I was always irritated when I heard a former Managing Director of a well-known multinational complain, about the low quality of graduates from Ghanaian universities. If you had to compete with another graduate from a “syto” university in England, it was a foregone conclusion that you would fail his interviews. To avoid this, he sent his sons to school in another country.
Because of the type of development his company offered at the time, it was very depressing for us young graduates who hoped to make a career in his company. It’s a shame his company has lost its place in the hearts of recent graduates. This business executive, ironically, was the Chairman of the University Council of one of Ghana’s prestigious universities. In my rage, I would always wonder why he, of all people, could complain. He had all the power in the world to ensure that at least graduates from his university met his standards – that the curriculum was relevant to industry, that the faculty was qualified and well-resourced, that the right students were chosen, and that the mode of operation was the most appropriate. That was not to be, and I was even more frustrated when I heard him repeatedly criticize Ghanaian-trained graduates.
Several years later, after working under his direction in one of the conglomerate’s affiliate companies and rising through the ranks to become a people manager and, at one point, a headhunter for other businesses, I had to agree with him that we do, in fact, have a problem with our Ghanaian-trained graduates. I’ve come to the conclusion of numerous headhunts wondering what individuals’ study in school. Are individuals going to school these days to pass exams or to learn new things? In a literal translation of a Ga proverb, I should be saying to this well-known businessman, “sir, here is your stone”!
We have graduates who do not have a clue what they want out of their careers. They most of the time do not have a career objective. It becomes obvious they were asked to go to school or they went to school because others were going to school and the natural progression from there is to find a job. It seems their focus in school was to pass the lecturer’s exams so they “chew, pour, pass and forget”. Ask them to do a case study at an assessment center and you’d be shocked to the marrow the kind of analysis they make, talk less of making deductions or the quality of the English language!
The challenge to us as an HR community is that how do we ensure we find a consistent supply of the right people for our organizations. We have a problem! We have a looming HR crisis – who will be the next set of business executives? Do they have the right preparation to take them to the next level? What will become of shareholder value if present businesses are left in the hands of ill-prepared managers? I have been trying very hard to understand how we got to where we find ourselves. I almost concluded the decline in educational standards was due to the educational reforms until very recently.
We are where we are because academia does not attract skilled lecturers with experience in industry to the classroom in Ghana neither will they accept that some people might possess the expertise necessary to serve as a catalyst to boost industry. Why, I am not sure.
What I know though is that someone like Dr. Sam Jonah is not an academic but he lectures every now and then at Harvard Business School and Pennsylvania State University. He’s a visiting Professor at University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. But has he lectured in any business school in Ghana?
Agya Koo Nimo the celebrated palm wine guitarist, who is a biochemist and with no formal music qualification, is a visiting music lecturer at the Columbia University.
In the USA, you have people like Peter Williamson, a well-known consultant with INSEAD and Boston Consulting Group also lecturing at Harvard Business School. Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway and Jeffery Bewkes of Time Warner are regulars at Stanford University.
But in Ghana, we have accomplished business people like Dr. Kwesi Ndoum, Prince Kofi Amoabeng, Dr. Ko Amoah, Prince Alhassan Andani, Tony Oteng Gyasi etc. Why is it that none of these accomplished business people hold faculty membership in any of our universities? I happened to have attended an interview somewhere some time back. One member of the panel, a very well-respected professor and consultant, who has been associated with almost every business school in this country; University of Ghana, GIMPA, Central University, paused at a point and asked if I was lecturing in any of the universities? I answered in the negative and he asked why I was not doing so? He ended the interview and said he thinks someone like me should be in the classroom. Rather than offer me that job, he directed that I go to his Vice Rector friend and tell him that he, Professor So-So and So said he should give me an appointment to lecture Procurement Management.
To my surprise, the Vice Rector friend would not entertain the proposition because I did not attend a university. He is right; you’d never find my name in any Ghanaian University’s register. I opted for a professional career and went straight into that. I attended Accra Polytechnic and graduated with an HND. I did self-study with no tuition to charter with the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS) in UK. I pursued an EMBA in Strategy with a French Business School by distance learning, though at the time I was yet to submit my dissertation, so I had not graduated. In between these I had pursued some other postgraduate courses over time at both GIMPA and University of Ghana. So, he was right, I did not hold a BSc, MSc, MPhil or an MBA at the time but I hold an MCIPS, the highest professional qualification in procurement management comparable to ACCA, CA, CIM or CIB.
I had also worked in three multinational companies and headed functions in these multinational companies with global brands including being Acting Head of Human Resources and Head of Supply Chain. I had held a regional role as Procurement Executive in an oil company across the Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Benin corridor. I had set up a supply chain function, resourced it and developed systems and people to deliver results. I had set up a consultancy and undertaken some notable assignments. My experience spans the
manufacturing, telecoms, oil, automobiles, heavy duty equipment industries and you name it.
In effect, when it came to my professional domain, I had been well exposed to impart knowledge from industry. I guess that was why the professor felt in this era, where procurement was attracting so much attention, both in the public and private sector; people like me should go to the classroom to raise more people of my kind to impact industry.
I left that Rector feeling sorry for Ghanaian business. How best can we create better linkages between industry and academia than to allow people from industry into the classroom? How can we align academia and industry if we do not stimulate and facilitate research through such interaction? How best can we have our students get a sneak peek of the way all that theory really applies in practice?
Dr. Jean Aka and Oyeeman Wireko Ampem II have passed on with all the banking experience but we still have Kobina Richardson, Mike Ezan, Charles Coe, Kwesi Abeasi, Adelaide Ahwireng and the likes. Will we watch all these industry giants fall off without them
sharing their legacies?
My mind went back some years to a casual joke by Komla Dumor on Joy FM about how he was shocked to realize he actually had the same lecture notes as his father at the University of Ghana. Can you believe that? A single lecturer taught two generations of people using the same lecture notes? Incredible! If this is how we will grow our future industry giants then Ghana is in trouble.
My take is that Human Resource Development Directors and Managers should begin to build linkages and relationships with academia. They should influence the teaching methods applied in Ghanaian universities and polytechnics. They should influence the content of the curriculum and the values industry seeks. They should contract these institutes to conduct research not because they need the results but to compel the faculty to do what they are supposed to be doing anyway.
That is the only way we can align industry and academia to ensure we have a sturdy flow of human capital to run our businesses. They should allow students to do internships and write reports to management before they return to the classrooms.
In procurement management this is part of strategic sourcing – we call it supply source development or supplier development programmes.
By Kobina Ata-Bedu