Grooming them for the world of commerce


IF YOU THINK that social etiquette and good grooming are the finishing schools in Switzerland, think again.

Final year undergraduates at DCU's business school are being encouraged to participate in workshops which are geared to help them acquire a range of social skills and teach them the dos and don'ts of dressing for business.

The voluntary and highly innovative in terms of a university setting module, which runs over 10 weeks, is called "social professional development".

The course (which is free) includes workshops in confident conversation, different cultures, business communications, social graces, style and business entertaining. And if it all sounds a little far fetched to you, DCU's business school is adamant that the course has been introduced for very sound reasons.

"Our decision to introduce this programme was precipitated by employers who told us that while Irish graduates were technically superb, compared to Oxbridge graduates and their American and European counterparts, they were socially ill at ease and lacking in self confidence, says Dr Patricia Barker, associate dean of DCU's business school.

"In business, work isn't confined to the office - a lot of work is done in social settings and students need the social skills which will enable them to socialise with confidence in the world of business."

Adopting a new dress code is the first major hurdle that young graduates encounter when they leave college and are forced to abandon much loved denims in favour of the business suit. Style workshops conducted by outside consultants - including the Geraldine Brand Agency - help students view their wardrobes in a new light.

"We encourage students to regard their wardrobes as an investment - just as a plumber invests in tools so business people invest in their clothes. . . We encourage students to look at themselves and to wear clothes that suit their colourings, sizes and shapes.

"They need to wear clothes in which they are comfortable. Shirts that are too tight or skirts that are too short for example will invariably prevent them from concentrating on the job in hand. Students are taught to build up their wardrobes so they can mix and match," Barker says.

Hygiene, hairstyles and dressing for a business social event are among the other issues that are addressed in the style workshops.

Many students have spent theirs "lives eating dinners in front of the television and are often ill equipped to deal with the battery of tableware that will confront them in restaurants during business lunches.

Learning which knife and fork to use - and when, and how to choose menus and wines are covered in the "social graces" workshops which also dispense useful advice on hosting parties, networking at social functions and avoiding bores.

The 10 week programme includes workshops on conversation in which students learn how to remember names, to make introductions, to initiate conversations and keep them going, to debate without argument and to acquire good listening skills.

The business communications workshop covers communications in the workplace, dealing with difficult or aggressive people, interview techniques, giving and taking advice, dealing constructively with criticism, the use of the telephone and assertiveness training.

At the end of the programme the students host a dinner to which top business people are invited.

"The students are a little nervous at first," says Barker, "but they quickly begin to feel comfortable and apply what they have learned.

It gives them a chance to obtain a preview of the world into which they will soon be moving."

DCU's business school has developed a number of new optional programmes which are designed to boost the self confidence of its graduates. This year, in addition to the social personal development programme the business school is offering second year business studies students the opportunity to participate in programmes on self management and personal effectiveness. Both these programmes, which are voluntary, are being run in conjunction with the Student Support Unit.

"We recognise that a business education has wider aspects which are often neglected," says Barker.

Technical skills apart, there are many other skills necessary to a successful career in business, she says.

One unit of the programme focuses on building self confidence and self esteem and on communication skills training, in order to achieve self empowerment.

"Students learn to challenge the `shoulds' and `musts' that are imposed on them by other people and which act as barriers to self esteem," she says. They learn to take a mature view of a situation and gain sufficient self confidence to weigh up advice and if necessary reject it.

"This can be difficult. In our school system youngsters are used to being told: `This is what you have to do to succeed'. They come into college believing that if they do as they're told they will be successful."

Self directive learning training is an important element of the programme and includes the discovery of a learning style, time management, motivation, note taking, effective reading and memory and stress management.

Conflict management, negotiation skills, problem solving, decision making and risk taking are all skills that members of the business community rely heavily upon and which are examined during the course of the programme.

"There's a lot of education in these courses which you rarely get in a classroom," says Barker. "Our aim in all of this is to produce self confident, well rounded graduates."