For most college students, “market demand” is a term reserved for business courses. At Bentley University, it took on a different role, informing two new majors — Professional Sales and Creative Industries — that answer employer demand for skilled professionals. The move marks Bentley as the only major university in the northeast U.S. offering an undergraduate major in the field of professional sales.
One of the things that make the majors distinctive is the collaboration during the development process: Bentley faculty had significant input from the Office of Career Services and employers.
“Executives at EMC were very interested in recruiting Bentley talent into their sales development program, but there were gaps in terms of Management and Marketing majors applying for sales positions — despite market demand,” says Susan Brennan, executive director of corporate relations and career services. Between April 2010 and July 2012, Bentley listed more than 600 open job positions in the fields of sales and business development.
Brennan, who sits on Bentley’s Undergraduate Curriculum Policy Committee alongside faculty and staff, supported the case for sales curriculum that would help prepare students to fill these jobs. She and faculty members — including department chairs Duncan Spelman (Management) and Andy Aylesworth (Marketing) — collaborated with a group of corporate partners for input on the curriculum, with more than 30 sales executives discussing career paths.
“The entire group was supportive of the major and they are interested in getting more involved to help launch the new program, recruit students and offer internships,” says James Pouliopoulos, lecturer in marketing and director of the Professional Sales program.
This kind of backing is on target with Bentley preparedness study findings: A majority of respondents support greater collaboration between business and higher education, particularly when it comes to business curriculum.
“It’s very market driven but at the same time it’s very much a legitimate academic function with faculty resources aligned,” adds Brennan. “That’s what is going to make it successful for both employers and graduates.”
That same kind of collaboration — among career services, faculty, alumni and corporate partners — informed the Creative Industries degree.
“Several of our alums working in the creative sector report very rapid growth driven by the information revolution, along with changing audience expectations that revolution has triggered,” says Simon Moore, associate professor of information design and corporate communication.
Those audiences want to be engaged in different, more imaginative ways than in the past, adds Wiley Davi, associate professor of English and media studies. “That requires people with a good mix of creative and business skills who understand what the organization needs, how it works, what their key audiences want, and who can imagine ways of engaging them vividly.”
Career prospects in creative industries are strong and diverse, as emerging technology drives the expansion of creative content and promotion across platforms and devices. Social media strategy, sports and entertainment public relations, entertainment news media, game creation and web design are among the options.
The numbers speak for themselves when it comes to market demand. The United Nations, the State of Massachusetts and the U.S. government report favorably on the potential of the creative industries.
“The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts reported on the contribution of the creative industries,” says Moore. “Not only is that contribution very significant, so is the fact that the government is taking an interest in it.”
The sales industry is also on the radar. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts significant growth in sales career positions through 2020 in a variety of industries. According to a study by ManpowerGroup, sales was a top area for shortages of talent from 2006 to 2012.
The problem? While Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce identifies sales as a common career entry point for students majoring in a variety of disciplines — including general business, economics, finance, human resources, international business, management, management information systems and marketing — talented people are hard to find.
“Open positions often go unfilled because there is a shortage of qualified candidates who possess the knowledge, skills and perspective to step into a role as a sales professional in a variety of industries or as a business development officer in the nonprofit sector,” Pouliopoulos notes. “Employers report that they would prefer to hire university graduates who demonstrate a specific interest in a sales career.”
Statistics like these are noteworthy conversation starters for Brennan and the Career Services team. But it’s a broader collaboration across campus that makes the new majors and other educational initiatives distinctive.
“It’s unique to think about that whole cycle,” Brennan explains. “From Undergraduate Admission’s input on our student demographic to faculty who are grounded in the real world to alumni networks and corporate partners letting us know what they need, you’ve got to have all of those pieces.”
Although Brennan was initially surprised at the invitation to sit on the Curriculum Policy Committee, she hasn’t looked back. “When I’ve shared with colleagues at other schools that I have a seat at the table with faculty, I realize that it’s quite uncommon. But policy issues — including changes to curriculum and majors — are going to impact what we’re doing in career services.
“Aligning curriculum with market demand makes a lot of sense for higher education. It’s what will make our graduates much more relevant to potential employers.”
Kristen L. Walsh is a freelance writer.