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This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
Most colleges reserve the term “market demand” for business courses. Here the phrase takes a different turn, informing two new majors — Professional Sales and Creative Industries — that answer employers’ call for skilled professionals.
The move marks Bentley as the only major university in the northeastern U.S. with an undergraduate major in Professional Sales. An unusual collaboration gives both programs a distinctive edge. In developing the majors, which launched this fall, faculty had significant input from Career Services and corporate partners.
“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,” explains Susan Brennan, executive director of corporate relations and career services. Between June 2013 and June 2014, Bentley listed some 670 full-time posts or internships available in sales and business development.
Brennan, who sits alongside faculty on Bentley’s Undergraduate Curriculum Policy Committee, supported the case for a 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) — tapped a group of corporate partners for input; more than 30 sales executives discussed career paths.
“The entire group was supportive and interested in getting more involved to help launch the major, recruit students and offer internships,” says James Pouliopoulos, lecturer in marketing and director of the Professional Sales program.
The backing echoes findings of research that Bentley commissioned to assess millennials’ readiness for the modern workplace. A majority of survey respondents, who included academic and corporate leaders, urged greater collaboration between business and higher education, particularly around curriculum development.
“It’s very market driven but also very much a legitimate academic function with faculty resources aligned,” Brennan says of Professional Sales. “That combination is what will make the program successful for both employers and graduates.”
The same kind of collaboration — among career services, faculty, alumni and corporate partners — informed the Creative Industries major. Program coordinators are Jennifer Gillan, professor of English and media studies, and Simon Moore.
“Several of our alumni working in the creative sector report its very rapid growth driven by the information revolution,” says Moore, associate professor of information design and corporate communication. “That revolution has changed audience expectations.”
Consumers of television, film and video want to be engaged in ever-more creative ways, adds Wiley Davi, associate professor and chair of the English and Media Studies Department. “That requires people with a good mix of creative and business skills who understand what the organization needs, how it works, and what their key audiences want — and who can imagine routes to vivid engagement.”
Career prospects in creative industries are strong and diverse, as emerging technology expands 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. Reports by the United Nations and U.S. government, among others, point to boom times for creative industries.
“This is a global opportunity for Bentley students,” says Moore, citing a 2013 report by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, which put world trade of creative goods and services at $624 billion in 2011.
Similarly, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts significant growth in sales career positions through 2020, across a variety of industries. According to a study by ManpowerGroup, sales was a top area for shortages of talent from 2006 to 2012.
Even though sales is a common career entry point for students who majored 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.
“There’s a shortage of candidates with the knowledge, skills and perspective to step into a role as a sales professional in different industries or as a business development officer in the nonprofit sector,” Pouliopoulos notes. “Employers report they would prefer to hire university graduates who demonstrate a specific interest in a sales career.”
As the fall semester ramps up, Brennan looks forward to more work with the Curriculum Policy Committee.
“When I tell colleagues at other schools about having a seat at the table with faculty, I realize it’s quite uncommon,” she explains. “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’ skills that much more relevant to potential employers.”
Alison Davis-Blake, the former business school dean at the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota, was inaugurated as the eighth president of Bentley University in a ceremony attended by students, faculty, staff, alumni and other members of the extended Bentley community.