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Looking for Workers with AI Knowledge? Consider Business School Grads


Hands on a keyboard, overlaid with transparent AI icons

The increasing use of generative AI (GenAI) in the workplace is expected to transform many roles and require new skill sets for employees, according to research recently released by SHRM, even as employers say employees lack the necessary training and HR managers anticipate a GenAI skills gap.

The Villanova School of Business (VSB) is among higher education institutions that are integrating AI into their curricula to meet employers’ needs. VSB’s career center was already using GenAI to assist students with job-search tasks such as writing resumes and cover letters, said Wen Mao, the school’s dean.

Overlapping feedback from recruiters, employers and alumni influenced the addition of AI to the curriculum.

“We have all our tentacles out and very regularly talk to accounting firms, banks, marketing firms,” Mao said. “They’re looking for students who come out of business school with some level of experience [and] exposure to AI tools,” as well as owning responsibility for the outcomes.

Graduates heading into the workforce, she said, need to be able to understand how to match the right AI tools to the right purpose and validate the results. As of Jan. 25, there were 11,523 AI tools for 16,605 tasks and 4,847 jobs, according to the website There’s an AI for That.

Professors must prepare students to effectively use technology in their lives and careers as AI likely becomes the primary way humans access information, according to an October article on the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business’ website.

“Students will especially need to learn skills related to effective prompt engineering, which refers to the ability to craft questions that elicit the most useful answers from AI platforms,” the authors wrote.

A report from Wiley, a global leader in education and research, suggests GenAI is already used in the majority of college classrooms, and that number could quickly climb. Wiley released a report, Higher Ed’s Next Chapter 2023-2024, in September, based on findings from an August 2023 survey of 1,078 instructors in North America and a 2022 survey of 2,452 instructors in Canada and the U.S.

“The whirlwind that is generative AI has swept across our college campuses with remarkable speed, and there’s no going back,” said Smita Bakshi, senior vice president of academic learning at Wiley, in a news release about the findings. “It’s important for college instructors to educate themselves and their students on effective and appropriate use of this new technology in the classroom.”

VSB introduced its three-course minor in AI and machine learning in fall 2020. It focuses on topics such as building prototype intelligent systems and natural language processing and is expected to benefit students majoring in finance, marketing, management, accounting, management information systems, economics and real estate.

In fall 2021, the school introduced a graduate program that looks at AI’s application in the business world, such as detecting fraud, predicting stock behavior and making pricing calculations. Villanova University was among four schools that Fortune highlighted in 2023 for offering a specialized MBA program in AI. The others were Northeastern University, Northwestern University and Texas Tech University.

Business majors must “be able to understand what AI algorithms produce. It requires a pretty deep knowledge of what’s happening and understanding the results and how you use the results,” Mao said.

Employers are looking for graduates “who have a good understanding of core [analytics] tools,” coupled with “softer skills like problem solving, relationship skills [and] the ability to interact and interpret AI outcomes to clients,” she said.

The ability to translate the findings is key.

“Can you communicate that [AI] result … in plain English to clients, to your boss? Those are very important skills. And of course, equally important: [having] an ethical foundation,” Mao said.

Sometimes there are biases in the algorithms generated by machines that users need to be made aware of so as to responsibly use AI, she added.

For example, SHRM Online reported in January on two recent workplace experiments that looked at the limitations and strengths of GenAI tool ChatGPT.

“The study’s findings highlighted the importance of organizations being selective in how they employ GPT-4—as well as future iterations of the technology—to improve business operations,” SHRM Online noted.

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