It’s often said that students attend business school because they want good jobs when they graduate. Naturally enough, they tend to focus on class work that will help them reach that goal. However, classroom learning can take them only so far. As business school faculty, it’s up to us to make the necessary link between classroom theory and how it is applied in the workplace. When this link is made, students learn more and retain better. Seeing their studies “in action” makes it stick.
I teach operations management, and fortunately in Boston there are many world-class operations that can drive my lessons home:
- At the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston, students learn how to provide customers with an outstanding experience that creates guest loyalty
- At Toyota’s Distribution Center in Mansfield, students see exactly how just-in-time concepts provide both lower inventory costs and fast service
- Newton-Wellesley Hospital shows students how outstanding service for patients is one of the main factors in healthcare success
- The tilt-tray system at New Balance’s distribution facility in Lawrence demonstrates the critical role of information technology in ensuring the accurate assembly of customer orders while simultaneously reducing labor costs
- At United Electric Control’s manufacturing plant in Watertown, students observe lean production operations that are not only flexible to accommodate a wide variety of products, but also minimize the overall time needed to complete them
- A visit to the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Boston’s North End shows the importance of empowering workers to make decisions at all levels. That approach was key to the Coast Guard’s effective rescue operations in New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina.
In every case, students clearly see how the theory presented in the classroom is actually applied in a real-world environment. Often the managers at these organizations repeat exactly what we have talked about in class. Students will observe Pareto diagrams, run charts, and other quality control tools that measure process performance throughout the companies. And, as a nice added benefit, visiting these organizations regularly keeps my teaching material current and relevant in today’s workplace.
These company visits also introduce students to a wide variety of companies where they might want to work. Often they can do an internship at one of these firms to gain added experience. And the companies have an opportunity to show why they are world-class operations and why students might want to work there.
With all these advantages, visits to real-world companies benefit everyone: the students, the organizations, and me. With all the current talk about the relevance and “ROI” of higher education, there’s no better way to make sure students are prepared to enter the workplace and begin their careers than to introduce them to these real-world situations. It accelerates their learning and applies their hard-won knowledge to the organizations and networks they will find themselves in throughout their working lives.
Mark Davis is a Professor of Operations Management at Bentley University.