Higher education helps to train us not what to think but how to think. In turn, each academic discipline gives us new ideas and new terms, broadening the scope of what we can think about. However, this scholarly language can be difficult to understand without access to the right context. It takes training, patience, and years of education to be fluent in an alternate academic language.
In fact, the same could be said for the language used for any specialty across our campus. Acronyms well understood in Rekhi might be bewildering in the EERC. Those studying engineering learn a very specific language, one of problem solving, of materials, of ideas, and of solutions. This is what gets them ahead, what gains Michigan Tech its high job placement rate.
Learning an additional academic language can carry students even further. Robert Hutchinson, the new director of the Masters of Accountancy program in the School of Business and Economics, sees—aside from the obvious benefits of graduate education for accounting majors—the innate value for engineers and other professionals in learning the language of business.
"Accounting is simply a language our students need to know. We want them to be successful and move up in their careers. They need to know this language to get here."
“One of the first things I tell my students—and it’s from personal experience—is that while I can probably live in a foreign country and get by, I’m really limited if I don’t speak the native language,” he says. “Being able to speak the language, to understand the nuance in the proper context, makes my experience that much more fruitful.”
“That’s exactly what accounting is: the language of business.”
This language isn’t just for ordering a meal or finding a bathroom, either. Being fluent means being able to read what is happening now and speak, advocate, and influence what is next.
“Look at Apple,” he says, sipping from his paper coffee cup. “Apple knew the iPhone was going to be a success because they already understood their market and they were creating demand. They weren’t guessing. They weren’t working in the dark. They were able to predict.”
Most people initially think of accounting in terms of tax preparation or auditing. “That’s what comes first to most people,” Hutchinson continues. “But so much of accounting is learning how to predict—and predict accurately— and prove those assumptions to people like CEOs.” Advancing predictive accounting skills has become a primary focus in the School of Business and Economics—unsurprising considering the level of interdisciplinary talent at Tech. In a recent article, “Cost Accounting and Simulation: Toward a Post-Structuralist Understanding,” Hutchinson brings forward the notion that, beyond its analytical qualities, accounting is a complete simulation, one that fits into this predictive paradigm and that largely determines what the reality for a given context will be. “The accounting model no longer reflects any profound economic reality,” he concludes. “It precedes reality.”
When heading into careers, employees who know the language of accounting, what it can predict, and how to present that information to those who control the purse strings are the ones who move even further ahead.
"Language shapes the way we think and determines what we can think about."
“It’s a skill. It’s a language,” Hutchinson insists. “And it’s one that’s going to take them very far.”
Umberto Eco, another influential name in the pantheon of humanities scholars and also a best-selling novelist, writes of the struggle for Europe to recover an idealized—and lost—perfect language.
“The dream of a perfect language has always been invoked as a solution to religious or political strife,” he writes. “It has even been invoked as the way to overcome simple difficulties in commercial exchange.”
No one person is complete with their literacy. None among us can communicate perfectly in every context to every individual. Collaboration is one supporting arm over those pitfalls, but gaining a basic understanding of a multitude of languages is another. And that is what literacy in accounting, with its suite of predictive and persuasive tools, can offer the engineering professional.
“They get one of the best engineering educations around—predictive in the sense of knowing how something will work—and the best technical business education anywhere,” Hutchinson says. “We want to give them another language, one that will help them climb the ladder more quickly.”
The International Federation of Accountants has issued a guidebook to best practices around predictive analytics, seeing the benefits for “professional accountants in business working in commerce, industry, financial services, education, and the public and not-for-profit sectors, as well as their organizations, who embrace predictive business analytics to help develop and execute strategy.”
The language of prediction through accounting is becoming the standard. The language is global for businesses looking to keep up, let alone get ahead.
Giving students all of the languages they need to get where they wish to go—and before they need them—is essential. But the awareness of which languages are applicable, and when, is still growing.
“Accounting is simply a language our students need to know,” Hutchinson says. “We want them to be successful and move up in their careers. They need to know this language to get there.”
While there is no language that works in every context, collecting a series of languages to communicate in the professional world is another benefit of accounting, finance, economics, and business in general. Hutchinson concludes: “In order to move up into management, businesses want to see experience with budgeting and the predictive skills of accounting. Budgets work when they’re informed by accounting, and that means being able to read the past to understand and direct what will happen in the future.”
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.