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05th Sep 2022
Dr Marco Feris MAIPM, Prof Rodney J Clarke PhD, University of Wollongong.
A report issued in 2021 by the Project Management Institute (PMI) foresaw that organisations will need to fill approximately 2.3 million new project-based roles each year by 2030. This growing need for qualified professionals makes formal project management education increasingly important in many universities.
Tertiary educational institutions are now offering a wide range of programs, including at undergraduate, postgraduate, executive education, and doctorate levels. On the other hand, the predominant industry judgement concerning the traditional project management education is that it is not preparing students to deal with the complexities of the business environment. Among other factors, students:
Moreover, universities are being forced to adopt a new set of behaviours to deal with an established business model that was disrupted by the advent of COVID-19. So, how can we better design and deliver a project management program that fosters competencies that support real-life problem solving, so students will be better prepared to work in the industry and succeed in the future?
One of the problems in traditional education is the use of textbooks that seem inadequate to the task of preparing students to effectively manage real-life projects. The 2019 edition of Project Management: Achieving Competitive Advantage provides an incomplete concept for project success (pp.37-38), because it does not consider detriments (e.g., the environmental issue of polluting of a river as a result of the project). The 5th edition of Project Management – The Managerial Process features an extremely detailed way to calculate the duration and slack of each task to be performed (pp.258-265), but practitioners often do not plan at this level of detail because any unforeseen event will undermine the calculations and introduce rework.
To complicate matters, today’s student body is diverse with different levels of interest. For example, many students expect their education to focus on raising their employability levels, while those who have previous work experience use it to booster their marks. These kinds of students want to make the most of the academic inputs provided in the classroom and understand how to apply knowledge, tools, and techniques in practice. Many international students are also looking for advice on successfully applying for jobs. There are others that are less likely to focus or put energy into their studies because their priority is migration. Many students are from Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2013), a group that has been characterised as having the ‘highest rate of diagnosed depression and anxiety’ when compared with all other generations. Students with low performance tend to ignore the importance of concrete feedback, while those who get better marks indicate a stronger desire to improve even more their performance.
The approach adopted at UOW started in 2018 and is still ongoing. It was designed to overcome the issues described above and has been implemented in subjects of the Master of Project Management and the Graduate Certificate in Project Leadership and Management, modules in the Bachelor of Engineering, and also in the training of doctoral students. There are three subjects focused on planning, one subject focused on the leadership, and other focused on negotiation. All subjects employ six complementary practices:
The six complementary practices (source: UOW)
There must be an ongoing dialogue between educational institutions and industry to continue to increase students’ employability. Results from this novel approach maintained the number of enrolments in our programs even during the worst of the pandemic (on average, an 85% attendance level). Students have evaluated these subjects highly. One commented that “…these industry relevant courses have broadened my understanding of diverse methodologies, and equipped me with effective and adaptable tools which has enhanced my professional confidence and ability to take on projects of any scale and complexity”. Companies are recognising that this approach works and have requested that we pass on specific job opportunities to suitable candidates looking to enter the profession.
Nonetheless, no matter how good the quality of education offered by an educational institution, the same needs that drove the changes in our approach apply to each individual’s career. In particular, project managers must have the ability to identify and address their own educational needs over time. This constant lifelong learning, paved with formal and informal experiences, combined with a behavioural skills, hard work and proper people management, creates the conditions to remain competitive long term.
This article appears in the Winter 2022 edition of Paradigm Shift magazine. Find out more about the AIPM digital magazine and take a look at the full edition.
If you liked this article, you can see more by reading the latest edition of the Australian Institute of Project Management’s digital magazine. Please note that past editions are member exclusive.
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