Against a background of reports highlighting a skills shortage at the very top of British companies, Laura Kelly of Thomson NETg charts the recent growth of executive education.
Executive level training has always been an area of some debate - not only from a cost perspective, but from the fact that many companies invest in expensive, high-level training only to see their staff disappear to a competitor company.
However, executive education is beginning to undergo a transformation, as companies realise the vital need to invest in learning to enhance the skills of their top level talent and encourage them to stay with the organisation.
Given the current market situation, companies are realising that executive training is not just a ‘nice to have’ but an absolute must, and are looking for the most effective, efficient and fast ways to arm their board-level and senior management with the right skills required to drive business success.
Reports last year from the Chartered Management Institute highlighted the fact that UK businesses are being held back as a result of a shortage of skills at the top of organisations as opposed to the bottom.
A little worrying, but if one looks more closely at why this is happening the reason perhaps becomes apparent.
Over the last few years, there has been so much emphasis on developing the skills of employees that those at the top have been forgotten.
Companies have looked to fill short-term skills gaps or key technical skills, but have ignored the leadership, management and business acumen needed for real long-term prosperity.
Furthermore many senior level staff dismissed training. There was the thought that "managers are born not made, you’ve either got it or you haven’t".
So for many board-level professionals, executive learning was pushed under the table, and of course under their huge workloads.
The Tide is Turning
However, over the last few months more companies have realised that this strategy does not equal long term success.
Instead it is the continual investment in effective learning that can help develop future leaders and achieve strong business results.
Many professions, such as the medical or legal industries, rely on continuous learning to ensure they are armed with the latest skills.
The same emphasis on keeping skills up to date needs to apply to company leaders who should not be left to muddle through with outdated skills.
Continuous improvement means continuous learning, and for any company that wants to excel and stay competitive in the current market, executive training has become a matter of vital strategic importance.
With increasing pressure on senior executives to perform well and to deal with constantly changing business environments, skills need to be kept up-to-date.
Competitive advantage is linked directly to what an organisation’s management team knows, and how well they apply their knowledge and skills, which means high level learning for top talent has become crucial.
With this change in training mindset, the market for executive education solutions has grown with a proliferation of learning options – full and part-time, online, classroom-based, open and bespoke.
These new solutions ensure that learning is highly tailored to the individual, that learning doesn't eat into valuable work time (something no company can afford at the moment) and most importantly that learning is strategic.
These are elements that have really changed in training, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that the right learning to aid management development and meet business goals is the strongest weapon a business can have.
One training solution recently taking the business world by storm is online MBAs.
MBAs are seen as the management X factor – the password that will provide you with an accelerated path to corporate management success.
But it is only over the last few months a huge growth has been seen with the introduction of online versions.
For many executives learning in this way is often the best option for developing and fine-tuning key leadership and managerial skills within a hectic working schedule.
Readily accessible, high level learning isn’t just a tool for ensuring that business competitiveness is maintained, it also helps drive motivation and enthusiasm and provides leaders with a new stimulus.
This often acts as an effective retention strategy for top talent as they recognise their organisation is investing in their career development and providing a reason for staying with the company.
High level learning can help an organisation ensure that every executive is an entrepreneur, capable of spotting new business opportunities and leading a company to success.
It can also help senior level staff to think strategically and to competently manage organisational change, creating competitive advantage.