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Education for business and life

Continuing education is a vital weapon in the armoury of executives aiming for the top

“There is pressure to reinvent, to stay fresh and not go out of date.” Photograph: iStock

“There is pressure to reinvent, to stay fresh and not go out of date.” Photograph: iStock

 

The pace of change in the business world has never been faster. Educational qualifications are quickly outdated and on-the-job experience won’t fill the skills gaps. “The newer generations, and not just millennials, are very different to earlier ones where a majority of learning was done very early on and the perceived need for continuing education was quite low,” says Helen Brophy, director of executive development at the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business.

“They might have done a BComm and nothing else after that,” Brophy continues. “The perceived necessity of lifelong learning was quite low. Maybe it was the recession that changed things. There is no such thing as a job for life anymore. There is pressure to reinvent, to stay fresh and not go out of date. The pace of change may mean that the qualification you got just 10 years ago may no longer be relevant. Lifelong learning has come much more into the frame in the last decade or so.”

Organisations need to be adaptable, flexible and agile. Executive education services those needs through tailored engagement with organisations and people

That hasn’t been the only change. “It’s now quite unusual to find someone who has spent their entire career in one organisation. People move around and may even change roles, which require very different skillsets as they move along. They are taking the opportunity to move away from general management to roles which require more specialised skills.

‘Enhance career opportunities’

“The specialist knowledge and skills acquired through executive development enhance career opportunities,”says Brophy. “Executives need to keep abreast of the changes happening around them and how they affect the business.”

Michael Flynn, director of executive education at Trinity Business School, agrees. “The role of executive education is to help organisations, companies, government bodies, NGOs and individuals develop,” he says. “We all need to improve continuously. The world is changing constantly. Executives need to craft their leadership style and hone it. Organisations need to be adaptable, flexible and agile. Executive education services those needs through tailored engagement with organisations and people.”

He points to climate change, digital disruption, and changes in consumer behaviour as some of the challenges driving the demand for executive education. “There is a constant need for innovation and strategic thought in organisations,” he says. “Good executive education is not about simply signing up for a course and going back to work when you’re finished. It’s about looking for the best knowledge in the subject and engaging in action learning. There has to be a connection between what is done on the programme and then taking it back to the organisation.”

People aren’t talking about work-life balance anymore, they are talking about work-life management and our programmes help with that

That real-world application is critical, according to Brophy. “How the programme allows people to translate learning back into workplace action is key,” she says. “We place a strong emphasis on experiential learning. If a programme doesn’t allow opportunities to put the learning into practice, it becomes very difficult to bring it back to the workplace and apply it.

“When we are designing bespoke courses for clients, we first look at the practical outcomes,” she continues. “We ask what success looks like back in the organisation. That informs the design of every programme. When thinking about returning to learning it’s not just about the qualification. It’s about the application of the learning.”

‘Personal development’

And it’s not just about organisations. “It’s very much about personal development,” says Brophy. “The personal journey students go on is remarkable. When people come back and embrace learning, they look at it differently than when they were in college. A much greater value is placed on it. We work with people on how to manage time, pace themselves, and become more resilient. This is particularly important in multinational corporations which run 24 hours with locations around the world. Executives have to be able to manage, prioritise, and maximise the time available to them. The benefits spill over into people’s personal lives. People aren’t talking about work-life balance anymore, they are talking about work-life management and our programmes help with that. The personal dimension is very important.”

And that personal aspect also benefits the business. “A key part of our programmes is peer-to-peer learning,” Brophy adds. “The people on the programme challenge and stretch each other. Creating the right class dynamic is critical to learning. The debates and discussions between the facilitators and students enrich the learning experience. This is incredibly important. If you have spent your career in one industry sector it is very valuable to learn how people in different industries solve similar challenges. That’s like gold and you can bring it back to your own organisation. Our students end as part of a network where they can pick up the phone to some great contacts to get their thoughts on issues they face long after the programmes have finished.”