In a business context, the term “human capital” is becoming increasingly used to replace the term “resource” when referring to the people who work for a company or an institution. In everyday usage these two ways of representing the workforce of an organisation are often applied without distinction. However, a more careful analysis of the deeper meaning of the two terms reveals a substantial difference, which I believe provides a worthwhile starting-point for this brief observation. “Resource” brings to mind the concept of an investment acting as leverage, whereas “human capital” is more closely associated with the meaning of value, linked to an asset in which to invest so that its potential can be developed. My point is this: how can human capital be developed in line with today’s, and more importantly tomorrow’s, needs and opportunities? Those that work in a Business School, whose aim is precisely that of contributing to the creation of human capital by developing and transferring knowledge on economic and management issues, have witnessed an evolution in the elements that constitute value. Over the years, the core competencies required in a manager have gradually changed, adding to and enhancing the range of aptitudes, skills, personal characteristics and those pertaining to value which are needed to ensure that development prospects remain sustainable and to be able to effectively place oneself at the service of businesses and institutions. In the past, disciplinary hard skills may have been the only ones truly considered core competencies, and the others might have seemed to be more like a series of peripheral accessories, but today this is no longer the case.
Technical and disciplinary competencies appear to be a necessary but insufficient requirement.
So-called soft skills are taking on an increasingly important role and playing a crucial part in completing a profile with great potential: the ability to work in groups, the ability to listen and provide leadership, a predisposition for working in a multicultural of intellectual pluralism and of every element of diversity, appear to be increasingly vital to the search for qualified staff. These skills have now been further complemented by even more recent requirements that have become essential as a result of the rapid and often unpredictable changes brought about by the social-economic conditions in which today’s companies operate and compete: a predisposition for taking decisions on the basis of information of an uncertain and changeable nature, managerial responsiveness, the ability to motivate ones co-workers by taking advantage of new values, such as sustainability, subsidiarity and the ability to seek and guarantee an appropriate work-life balance, as well as a desire to enhance individual and collective wellbeing. This obviously applies to all those businesses and institutions that want to create value. Nevertheless, especially in knowledge-intensive environments, the challenge is to some extent even more crucial.
In these contexts, the company’s raison d’être is firmly rooted in the competencies and skills of its staff, in their motivation, in the opportunities for growth it offers its talents, exploiting them to the full and recognising their merits, providing an opportunity for professional development on the one hand, and devising effective retention policies on the other. In these contexts, company success would not appear to be dependent upon production plants, or on communicational messages designed to highlight differentiating elements where they are not clearly evident in an offer of a product or service. The cornerstone of development lies in those competencies primarily involved in the knowledge creation phase, and more generally in its dissemination and careful management. Within this framework, it is training which takes on a central role.
As Claudio Dematté, founder of the SDA Bocconi School of Management, maintained “education is the resource of resources”, or rather the driving force which ensures that the potential for knowledge or skills in each and every one of us can grow. Investment in training is a sign of vision, of long-term thinking, a choice which sees human capital as an asset to use to the full, managing to successfully combine an individual’s desire for personal development with the overall aims of the company investing in them and that of the social system in which it operates. The partnership between the SDA Bocconi School of Management and Chiesi Farmaceutici, which has given rise to the Chiesi academy dedicated to the Chiesi workforce and led to numerous initiatives inspired by the principles of continuous learning, has gained in importance as it is based on this shared vision and intent: to help the individual to grow in order to ensure that society develops as a whole.
Alberto Grando, Dean, SDA Bocconi school of Management