The importance of being a lifelong learner & what’s behind ESSEC’s strategy with Dean Vincenzo Vinzi

ESSEC Dean

The world around us continues to change – and so too do the challenges for future leaders. Impactful business education is therefore of the utmost importance.

We speak to Professor Vincenzo Vinzi, Dean and President of ESSEC Business School, to get an insight into how this institution is preparing future leaders for the challenges of tomorrow, today, from Paris to Singapore.

The RISE strategy at ESSEC began in 2020, could you explain what that is?

The ESSEC RISE strategy, which we launched in October 2020, has three pillars: artificial intelligence, entrepreneurship and innovation, and sustainability and social change. We believe it is our responsibility to positively influence how we address society’s grand challenges and “infuse leadership with meaning”. We developed this strategy in response to discussions with our community and in alignment with the sustainable development goals outlined by the United Nations.

As part of our artificial intelligence pillar, we launched the Metalab for Data, Technology and Society, which leverages multidisciplinary research and pedagogical innovation and brings together members of the ESSEC and business communities. The Metalab produces research papers and practitioner papers, organises and participates in conferences, shares curated content, and develops strategic partnerships, including with the OECD.

Our entrepreneurship pillar is committed to supporting entrepreneurship research as well as student entrepreneurship. ESSEC Ventures, our incubator, supports them from the conception of their project to getting funding to launching their business. ESSEC Antropia accelerates entrepreneurial projects with social and environmental impact. All of our students are also trained in entrepreneurship because we believe it is a mindset and the methods learned can be applied in any organisation.

Our third pillar is called Together and is dedicated to sustainability and social change. One hundred percent of our undergraduate students receive sustainability education in their first year, with their school year kicking off with a seminar on understanding and changing the world.  Our approach also includes our operations and business practices.

For example, we’re aiming to reduce our carbon footprint linked to student travel by 25% by 2025. To achieve this, our study trips prioritise destinations accessible by low-carbon transportation, and we offer sustainable mobility vouchers up to €100 for students who choose a more eco-friendly way of travelling, such as by train, bus or through carpooling. We also offer workshops for staff and urge students to exercise best practices like remembering to empty their deleted emails bin, to sort waste, etc.

In terms of social change, we have created and launched the “Fresque de la Diversité” (the Diversity Fresco), in partnership with Belugames, an interactive awareness workshop to fight discrimination, encouraging participants to challenge their assumptions and recognise their cognitive bias in order to engage in constructive dialogue and reduce inequality.

We developed this strategy to align with the needs of businesses today, the challenges confronting society, and the expectations of our students and our executive education participants, who are looking for careers that are successful, impactful and sustainable. They increasingly expect businesses, including their choice of business school, to create value with a commitment for the common good.

As AI continues to change business education as we know it, how is ESSEC planning to meet the challenges that come with all of this change?

We’re adapting our pedagogy to AI and have adopted a collaborative approach to doing so, with our Metalab, programme directors and department representatives, instructional designers, librarians, and Chief Data Officer working together. We’re exploring how AI may impact how students are evaluated, course design, technical and ethical issues, and we are also developing faculty guidelines. From our discussions, we’ve identified three main points: Adapt, Train and Evolve.

We’ve recognised the need to be flexible and open to the idea of AI in order to adapt – but to do so in an informed manner, recognising the complicated nature of AI tools and the associated risks. I believe that AI opens a world of possibility, and with our Metalab, we’re exploring these opportunities.

For example, AI can contribute to pedagogical enhancements, and we experiment with it to create more effective interactive learning experiences and adaptive educational content. We can also use AI to streamline processes and free up time that can be better invested for research, supporting students, and creative tasks.

The training component applies to all members of the ESSEC community, from students and participants to staff and professors. We continue to update our courses and our programme portfolio to respond to the needs of students. We have launched a new AI & Leadership executive education programme and offer courses on managing artificial intelligence.

We offer digital tools for our staff, such as webinars on using AI, Coursera, and workshops from our Knowledge Lab. One of our professors, Harris Kyriakou, also published a case study on ChatGPT that was the first of its kind from a business school, and recently won three distinctions, including the overall winner, from the Case Centre.

Finally, our philosophy is to continually evolve – by staying abreast of changes and maintaining an ongoing dialogue, including with partner companies, we can better understand and influence how AI will impact the world of work and society in general. This is why our collaborative approach is so crucial.

Along with challenges, this change brings about a lot of opportunities too. What do you think those opportunities look like, and how is ESSEC going to utilise them?

It’s an opportunity to evolve our teaching model, to think about how we can contribute to the world of tomorrow, and to set an example for responsible business education. All our pre-experience students now receive training in sustainability and AI.

We also encourage sharing best practices: in 2023, our Knowledge lab (K-lab), professors, and ESSEC Online (our digital campus) co-organized a Digital Pedagogy Day. This day was about different ways of teaching and learning (blended learning, online courses, flipped learning) and sharing the tools at our community’s disposal. This, in addition to our commitment to adapting, training and evolving, ensures that we can take advantage of the opportunities of 21st-century learning.

Preparing students for the world of work looks different to how it did before. What do you think are the new needs of the job market?

When we launched our RISE strategy, one of the taglines of our communications campaign was, “If the jobs of the future don’t exist yet, how can we prepare for them?”. This remains true. The job market is rapidly evolving, and that means students also need to evolve. Employers are still looking for technical skills, but they’re also increasingly looking for soft skills: adaptability, resilience, flexibility and agility, analytical thinking, critical thinking, and digital literacy.

They’re looking for employees who are problem solvers and who have strong interpersonal skills, leadership and social influence, and who display good communication and teamwork abilities. With our Career Centre, these are skills we seek to instil in our students and participants. This way, our graduates will be ready and keep an open mind for the challenges of the future.

Technical skills do remain important, and there are new technical skills that employers value: data analytics and artificial intelligence, technological literacy, for example. We offer courses and programmes designed to train students to be future leaders in these fields, such as our Master in Data Sciences & Business Analytics, offered with CentraleSupélec.

Have you any advice for anyone looking to re-enter the job market? Or for students who are about to embark on their careers?

Whether you’re looking to change careers and do Executive Education, a new graduate, a teenager looking for your path, or comfortable in your career progression, there’s one piece of advice I would give to anyone: learn to learn and become a lifelong learner. Engaging in continuous learning, be it through formal education or autonomous, is critical both for your career but also for personal growth.

It will help you upskill, understand your industry, and keep up with changes like those set into motion by artificial intelligence and climate change. That’s why at ESSEC Business School, we offer both pre-experience and post-experience programmes, as well as certificate programmes designed for learners at any level and continuously updated both in the content and the delivery format.

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