Today's textile managers need to understand not only how to administer applicable technologies, but also finances, brand name strategies, markets, and the impacts of a global economy. At NC State's College of Textiles, methods of teaching are also being redesigned. An example of this is the introduction of simulation board games into the Textile Management and Textile Technology degree programmes. Faculty member Helmut H Hergeth reports.

Textile Management has long been an essential part of the degree programmes offered at North Carolina State's College of Textiles. From its traditional roots in textile technology and textile chemistry, many highly specialised areas of study have been developed over the past 100 years. One area that has grown tremendously is the field of business applications for a wide range of textile and apparel operations.

The degree programmes in Textile and Apparel Management undergo continued updates to carefully balance management skills, technology management, and technical knowledge. Just as technologies are changing and improving over time, management tools are also improving. And this means that requirements for future leaders in the wide ranging textile complex are constantly changing too.

Today's textile managers need to understand not only how to manage applicable technologies, but also finances, brand name strategies, markets, and the impacts of a global economy.

Teaching methods redesigned
In addition to updating the range of courses and their contents, methods of teaching necessary skills are also being redesigned. An example of this is the introduction of simulation board games into the Textile Management and Textile Technology degree programmes.

In the past, theoretical lectures on management topics have been enhanced using case studies that allow students to visualise real situations and how managerial tools can be applied in these situations.

This technique is less abstract than mathematical equations for example, and it enhances discussion and presentation skills. Simulation games go one step further: they allow participants to make decisions and experience the consequences of decisions.

The College of Textiles is presently using the game of 'Income/Outcome' by Andromeda Training Inc to introduce students in Textile and Apparel Management - as well as in Textile Technology - to concepts of financial management and basic marketing and management concepts.

The game of 'Income/Outcome' provides a simplified financial model of a business. During the game, participants manage a company by making decisions on production, purchasing, pricing and marketing. Just like in real life, every business transaction is reflected in a financial transaction, and all financial transactions are mapped out on the game-board.

To see how the decisions play out in the books of the company, the participants balance their books at the end of each round (ie, at the end of each game month). How the game progresses, depends on the participants' decisions; that is, the decisions made in their own company and the competing companies. There are no dice or computer programmes interfering with the impact of the decisions.

It should be noted that the game demonstrates how player decisions affect a company's profitability and cash flow. Participants experience very soon that both aspects of a business have to be considered simultaneously.

Over the course of the game decisions impact pricing, marketing, market share, cost structure, inventory, and fixed assets. As a result, the situations for the different teams are quite different after about seven to eight rounds, and different company situations can be analysed and discussed between groups.

Distinct advantages
Using the board game has some distinct advantages over traditional classroom lecturing. First of all it allows students to concentrate on the subject matter for the whole duration of the game, about 8 to 9 hours, rather than work only in 50 to 75 minute increments provided by traditional classroom instruction.

The most important difference compared to traditional lectures is the opportunity for participants to actually experience the decision making process in a team, and to live with the consequences of their decisions.

The game environment leads to emotional involvement of the participants, while classroom discussions and even computerised simulations tend to have a high degree of abstraction. The emotional involvement in the game results in higher retention of the learning objectives.

Students can experience consequences of decisions without the risk of economic disaster to a company, very much like pilots gain experience in a flight simulator before taking a real plane to the skies.

After using the business simulation game at junior and senior level classes for about one year, the Department of Textile and Apparel Management and Technology is now moving the experience into the second academic year. This way the benefits of the full-day exposure will be available in later classes, such as accounting, marketing, strategic management, and the wide range of specialised electives.

It is anticipated that the game experience will lead to deeper and more applied understanding in these courses, and will enable students to fit technology topics more easily into economic settings.

Two faculty members, Dr Michelle Jones and Dr Helmut Hergeth, have been trained as facilitators for the game. They direct the experiences specifically to textile and apparel settings, since the game by itself is used throughout a wide range of industries.

In industry, participants include employees at all levels all the way to financial officers who want to re-focus on strategic issues after spending most of their time dealing with detailed technical problems.

At this time the College's Management and Textile Technology programmes are being updated in contents and structure to better reflect the needs of the ever changing industry.

There is more emphasis on products and product development and on marketing and sourcing. Financial and international aspects are becoming increasingly important, and more courses than ever before include such aspects. A number of new courses have also been added to the range of choices for students at the College.

In terms of international cooperation, the College of Textiles has received several grants from the US Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) to enhance working with textile colleges and management schools in Europe.

The structure of the degree programmes has also been changed to allow for more textile and management electives, so that students can achieve more depth in a field of their concentration. At the same time graduates from the College of Textiles will be prepared for the widening range of opportunities and tasks awaiting them in the integrated industry complex.

For more information on the College of Textiles management programmes or the Game of Income/Outcome at the College, please contact Dr Helmut H Hergeth at HHH@ncsu.edu