September 28, 2015
Focus: Higher Education

In-demand skills: risk management, business analytics

Jud Saviskas, executive director of risk management programs, University of Connecticut's School of Business
Jill Ferrall, associate dean for career development, Quinnipiac University

While an MBA is considered the higher-education degree of choice for many Connecticut companies, there are other in-demand skill sets.

Financial risk management, business analytics, accounting, cyber security, and science, technology, engineering and math are among the areas of expertise sought by Connecticut employers, who are also looking for people with "soft" skills like the ability to communicate and think critically, according to university educators.

Jud Saviskas, executive director of risk management programs at the University of Connecticut's School of Business, underscored the demand in financial risk management, noting that about 160 students entered the master's degree program this fall. The first graduating class in 2011 numbered 23.

"Clearly the demand is there," Saviskas said, adding UConn got input from senior executives at about 10 companies to craft the right program and has stayed true to their input, offering a real-world approach to risk-management theory.

Driving demand was the Great Recession and federal legislation that required companies to boost risk oversight, he said. Increasing cyber threats also has made risk management a top priority for employers.

"Clearly, insurance companies, financial institutions — they're all affected by that," Saviskas said.

While more than half of the master's degrees in financial risk management focus on finance, it's grown beyond that, he said.

Big data is driving other areas in which Saviskas sees demand from employers. The financial risk management program deals with big-data analysis and many grads take jobs as data analysts, or financial or risk-management analysts, he said.

Connecticut employers also continue to seek people strong in science, technology, engineering and math, said Jill Ferrall, associate dean for career development at Quinnipiac University.

Quinnipiac added business analytics to its list of graduate degree programs last fall, said Ferrall, adding that accounting remains in demand and is needed across all industries.

In computer sciences, cyber security is huge, she said. Computer gaming and robotics are popular, too. Connecticut employers also seek people skilled in biometrics, forensic sciences and nursing, she said. Ferrall also thinks international relations is up and coming.

"The basis that I see is that employers want grads that have good math skills, good computer skills, good statistics skills and overall good communication skills, that's really what a business needs," Ferrall said.

Martin Roth, dean of the Barney School of Business at the University of Hartford, said employers want the fastest return on investment they can get in employees. So the university has taken concentrations it offers in its MBA program — finance, business analytics and management — and offers them as post-graduate certificates, Roth said.

"You can just come and take the set of courses that will enable you to gain the specialized skills that you and your employer feel are the most valuable," Roth said.

What's in demand? He sees interest in insurance and risk management, which are addressed by courses in the MBA program, plus business analytics and finance, he said.

Financial skills remain key, with continued interest in accounting and taxation, he added.

Soft skills key

Roth said he is also seeing demand in management in general, "just developing better business communication, teamwork, negotiation, conflict management and resolution skills — the kind of things revolving around being able to effectively manage people and teams within an organization."

Those are some of the soft skills — communication, critical thinking, decision-making, innovation, entrepreneurship and negotiation — employers want, said Christa Sterling, director of continuing education at Central Connecticut State University.

She said companies say they sometimes struggle finding young workers who can be critical thinkers, who aren't afraid to make a mistake, and who can write well. In response, CCSU plans to offer more courses that helps close that skills-gap, including a hybrid-writing workshop that includes in-class instruction and two to three months of online follow-up.

"Folks get a lot of technical degrees and then they don't have those writing skills, so that should be really popular," she said.

CCSU also is going to offer a social media digital boot camp certificate that Sterling expects will appeal to older workers.

Bill Barnett, dean of graduate studies at Trinity College, also sees employers wanting people with certain soft skills that can be cultivated in a number of degree programs and other courses, which makes liberal arts and sciences relevant to employment, he said.

Trinity, for example, sees attorneys taking graduate courses on American culture and history because they want to understand how the culture relates to their profession, Barnett said. Others might get a master's in English to improve their thinking and writing.

Trinity's master's degree in public policy has attracted people from the healthcare sector and state regulatory agencies to learn how policy is made and implemented and to hone their own skills of analysis and presentation, Barnett said.

Return to Sept. 28, 2015 higher ed focus section

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