Some interviewees (18%) from both information technology and advanced manufacturing articulated the importance of ensuring that technicians arrive at the workplace with a basic knowledge of business fundamentals, that is, an understanding of the overall business or mission of the company or organization.
I think the first thing you look for in an employee is they’re embracing what we do as a business and understanding their part in that.
– Advanced Manufacturing Educator 6
Interviewees mentioned a particular subcategory of knowledge of business fundamentals, “situational awareness.” According to the Department of Labor, this type of awareness reflects two types of understanding:
- how a business mission impacts society, and
- how a technician’s day-to-day work relates to the functions of other company departments
The Labor Department framework’s definition of business fundamentals also emphasizes two other forms of knowledge:
- “business ethics,” which focuses on respecting team members, following rules, and acting in the best interest of the company, and
- “market knowledge,” which includes awareness of market trends, competition, maintaining customer relations, and recognizing major industry challenges.
In the technician interviews and research, the emphasis was on situational awareness of a business’s mission in society and how a technician’s day-to-day work contributes to a company’s business. For the latter, they used phrases like knowing “what is happening upstream and downstream from what you do” (Advanced Manufacturing Educator 6) and understanding “the business and the value they are going to bring to it” (IT Employer 15). As one interviewee described it, understanding the larger business mission prevents workers from entering the workforce like “a million kayaks going off in a million different directions” (IT Employer 15).
A lot of the curriculum does not have business at its core, and we need more of that. I’ve been pushing that. If you don’t understand the business model, there is no way to know where you should be heading and how the business should be function. People cannot comprehend why the marketing department does what it does, why manufacturing does what it does, etc.
– IT Educator 12
Interviewees described understanding the business mission as a key driver of motivation to work in a technical field. Rather than seeing one’s job as merely “building boxes or circuit boards,” the technician grasps the larger story of why those boxes or boards are important to society: “These boxes are going to help people in a hurricane, or the circuit board [is] going to go on a spaceship to Mars” (Advanced Manufacturing Educator 6).
Lacking an understanding of the day-to-day aspect of situational awareness was seen as contributing to practical problems in the workplace, such as poor decision making, communication, and collaboration. Not understanding how one’s work affects other aspects of a business impacts decisions about daily time management and problem- solving strategies. When early-career technicians fail to understand how their work fits within the larger goals of the organization, they cannot communicate technical information well to nontechnicians, think critically about their role, or evaluate the risks and benefits of taking different actions on the job (IT Employer 15), which can limit their capacity to advance in their careers. When they need to interact with a director or vice president, “They can’t imagine what that person is looking for” (IT Educator 11). Not understanding the societal mission of a company primarily was seen as having negative effects on recruitment to a technician field. Employers said they needed to do a better job communicating their business missions to workforce education partners, parents, and students.
Unfortunately, very little insight emerged from the interviews about how to develop an understanding of business fundamentals, but some interviewees connected this with interpersonal/teamwork skills, suggesting that those who work well on a team are aware
of what happens upstream and downstream from their work. Once again, the job interview emerged as a key point where employers look for technician candidates to demonstrate their understanding of both the societal and functional aspects of business fundamentals. The team found only 12 research articles that touched on developing knowledge of business fundamentals in technician education, usually in tandem with developing other employability and technical skills. Nearly all the articles focused on project-based interventions for advanced or postgraduate students transitioning to the workplace, and all focused on the information technology field. Given the dearth of literature on business fundamentals for technician fields, the team also reviewed additional literature on how communicating societal impacts of a technical business can support recruitment to these fields.
Interviewees in both technician fields consistently emphasized both the societal and day-to-day aspects of situational awareness. However, the one cybersecurity educator interviewed for this study also mentioned the importance of one of the other subcategories of business fundamentals—knowledge of business ethics. Business ethics are a critical and fundamental employability competency for the cybersecurity field because cybersecurity technicians handle sensitive information for clients, customers, and the business every day.