‘Let's make sure that the product is revolutionary and not evolutionary.' These were the parting comments from Mike Fenlon, Chief People Officer of PwC, at the end of our phone call last summer. We had been having ongoing conversations about co-creating a cutting-edge academic offering for his company – one that would both enhance the capabilities of their workforce and integrate learning in the flow of their everyday work.

The Northeastern and PwC teams took these words to heart and, together, we've created an immersive graduate-level learning experience that uniquely integrates rigorous D'Amore-McKim course work with PwC experiential learning opportunities, culminating with a Master of Science Management (MSM) degree. This summer, PwC will launch this inaugural pilot degree program they're calling ‘While You Work' in order to build a workforce of the future that's prepared to navigate the challenges associated with breakthrough technologies that are disrupting industries and changing the world of work. They are also leveraging this program to eliminate systemic barriers to entry into the accounting profession and build a diverse workforce.

Companies like PwC rely upon institutions of higher education like Northeastern to supply talent aligned to their emerging needs. I believe envisioning a future-focused workforce requires the consideration of four inter-related elements:

Thriving in the digital-first future will require new capabilities

The chairman of a large financial services company recently told me that he views his firm as a technology company that operates in the financial services industry. In the current technology-driven business world, a knowledge of technology has become a necessary condition. And with enormous data proliferation owing to technological advances and emphasis on evidence-based decision making, data literacy is also absolutely necessary. So, the CPA ready for this world needs to possess technology and data-based literacies enhanced by human-centric capabilities like collaboration, creativity, and entrepreneurial and systems thinking as critical determinants of future success. Our co-designed program with PwC aspires to do just that: develop CPAs of the future.

Building a diverse workforce by eliminating systemic barriers is a business imperative

Businesses understand the value of a diverse workforce as demonstrated by research by McKinsey, which shows that racial- and gender-diverse companies are 33 percent more likely to outperform their peers on business outcomes. We cannot aspire to recruit diverse talent without tackling the systemic barriers to entry faced by students that belong to racial and ethnic minorities. For example, the time and resources required to spend a fifth year to obtain the incremental 30 hours to be eligible to sit for a CPA exam can be onerous for some and could explain why the accounting profession has lacked diversity historically. By being intentional about recruiting diverse talent and financing their education towards an MSM degree that will give them digital-first skills, PwC has shown a commitment to fostering equity and inclusion by investing in their modern workforce.

Shaping real-time business capabilities is made possible through learning in the flow of work

By integrating academic lessons with contextualized experiential learning projects as part of everyday work, learner capabilities are shaped in real-time and put to immediate use. In this PwC program, students are required to demonstrate the application of academic concepts in their projects as a required component of each course. In other words, the ROI is immediate for both PwC and their employees. Also, student projects are not one-size fits all projects; they choose projects that are of interest to them. As such, this is personalized learning that is bound to pay dividends for PwC. In addition, given the unbundled nature of the content development, these learners can also receive college credit during the upskilling process, thereby broad basing the talent pool with cutting-edge capabilities and credentials.

Co-creating with industry partners is critical for success

The future of work is changing rapidly, and agility is essential in order to serve the talent needs of our corporate allies. The necessary foundation for building a digital-first, diverse workforce can only be built efficiently when higher education institutions and industry work together toward a common goal. By co-creating and co-building academic offerings with industry partners, we can combine our strengths toward developing impactful leaders.

Northeastern is uniquely suited for all of this work. We have been a pioneer in experiential education for over a century, and fusing academic rigor with the relevance of the real-world is what we do best. We have always viewed our industry allies as our “faculty in the field,” so these collaborations come naturally to us. Our work with corporate allies, including ServiceNow and PwC, has enabled us to be responsive to their needs and develop impactful academic content accordingly. It has also enabled us to further develop the future of contextualized learning in order to facilitate metacognition for our learners. We are extremely excited to announce this ‘revolutionary' collaboration, and we look forward to new possibilities.

Raj Echambadi
Dunton Family Dean
D'Amore-McKim School of Business