Diane McEwan is executive director of Centralian College, an integrated tertiary institution in Darwin. In 1997 she was the NT/Telstra Businesswoman of the Year (public sector), and in 1995 she won the NT Council for Education Administration Achievement Award. She was principal of Pitman Central College in London, principal of Consortium Institutions in Kuwait and chair of the NT Businesswomen’s Consultative Council. She is a Fellow of AIM.
AIM: You undertook management training in the 1960s. How much has it changed since then?
McEwan: It is much more focused on workplace relationships now. Then the management training looked more at the theoretical; now there is a greater focus on workplace applications.
AIM: How would you assess local managers?
McEwan: Only 30% of our managers have academic qualifications, whereas 90% of Asian managers do. We need a mixture of experience and academic skills. You have your entrepreneurs and people who specialise in areas like economics and financial planning, but there is also a need for generic skills. In the past 10 years there has been a call for managers to increase their skills and accept the new workplace arrangements. Many do a good job but do not have the formal training. They are competing often against young people who have the training but not the experience.
AIM: You have worked in the public and private sectors. Which do you consider the more difficult?
McEwan: In the public sector you are controlled by legislation and the government. In private enterprise the marketplace, your clients and profitability control you. Both sectors are challenging, but private enterprise sharpens your skills because you have to respond quickly to client demand. I have found it very beneficial working in the private sector. It is very different, which is why young managers should get experience in both sectors.
AIM: Is management now a profession?
McEwan: Management is discussed a lot more these days, but the community does not yet recognise it. If you are a CPA (certified practising accountant) or a medical doctor or a solicitor or barrister, it has status in the community. But if you say you are a manager, it is too generic.
AIM: What are the biggest changes you have seen occur in management?
McEwan: Working in the new industrial relations climate is a lot more demanding on the employer. You have to have in place sufficient support mechanisms for staff: career planning advice, advice on discrimination. It is no longer enough to ensure that people are happy in the workplace; the home and the community have to be taken into account. Even if you are using an external agency, you need the support mechanism.
AIM: What is the most common failing in management?
McEwan: Insufficient emphasis on training. Even in the small-business arena, where you may not have the time or the resources to train people, it is still important. You may have only three or four employees but you need to update their skills continually if they are to be credible workers.
AIM: To what do you attribute your success?
McEwan: Focusing on the task; not being diverted by side issues; and trying to foresee opportunities and grasp them.
AIM: Can you give examples?
McEwan: Pitman College is based in the banking district of London. We got a lot of graduates from Oxford and Cambridge and other universities, who had degrees but no marketplace skills. I set up an agency called Pitman Personnel to compete with other recruitment agencies.
AIM: And in the public context?
McEwan: We set up a commercial arm of Centralian College called Training Solutions to provide private training. It has been running for five years, competing against other providers. We also go into the workplace and train managers.
AIM: How would you compare the university environment?
McEwan: It is more research-oriented. Pitman’s and TAFE, are driven by industry. If they are not meeting industry needs they just go to another provider.
AIM: How would you describe the current management environment?
McEwan: Exciting. If I were recommending a career to a young person, I would suggest they get technical expertise then get generic management skills to complement it. It is useful to develop transferable skills in areas like industrial and workplace relations, financial management and strategic planning.