Problem-based learning and the recruitment market for management graduates

In a recent HEA study which investigated the opinions of a representative sample of 402 Irish companies on the relevance of higher education outcomes to their recruitment needs (McGann and Anderson 2013), employers reported that they had recruited the highest proportion of graduates from the disciplines of business or law .  In other words, of the total of 144,500 employees in this sample of companies (Flynn 2013), 45.8% were graduates of business or legal disciplines. The next closest discipline was engineering (30.5%).

The workplace skill identified by the responding companies as being of most importance amongst graduates recruited over the past two years was ‘working effectively with others’.  This workplace skill was identified by some 78% of respondents and exceeded the need for subject knowledge (61%).  This link between the recruitability of business graduates and their greater exposure to group-based assignments  may be a major factor to the development of teamworking skills required by employers.  It is not enough, however, to claim that business graduates have more enhanced team-working skills because they are required to do more teamwork: it is more likely that it is the type of team-based projects that they are required to do which has lead to this situation. 

For example, in the editorial to a special edition on problem-based learning and management education of the Journal of Management Education almost a decade ago, Coombs & Elden proposed that Problem-based learning ‘citations in business journal on the other hand are very few (39) compared to educational journals (958) and especially to medical journals (1671)’ (Coombs and Elden 2004: 525). 

A quick search on Business Source Complete returns 354 results, with 279 hits for academic journals alone.  Taken at face value, this represents a ten-fold increase in less than a decade.  Anecdotally, problem-based learning seems to have long been part of the management pedagogy lexicon for some time, and whereas nobody would claim that it is a panacea for the problem of educating diverse student populations with varying sets of expectations from the outcomes of their third level education, it is, nonetheless important to recognise that team-based, problem-solving, skill-building outcomes seem to be impacting in the highly competitive recruitment market from Irish business programmes.


Coombs, Gary, and Max Elden. 2004. “Intoduction to the Special Issue: Problem-based Learning as Social Inquiry – PBL and Management Education’” Journal of Management Education no. 28 (5):523-535. doi: 10.1177/1052562904267540.

Flynn, Sean. 2013. “Survey shows satisfaction with Irish Graduates.” Irish Times, 7th January 2013, 9.

McGann, Kara, and Geraldine Anderson. 2013. National Survey of Employers’ Views of Irish Higher Education Outcomes. Dublin: Higher Education Authority.