education.business

Executives look to broaden knowledge base

The economic downturn created new levels of pressure that businesses never experienced.
Costs had to be contained. Operations had to be streamlined. The workforce had to be as lean and as efficient as possible.

It created pressure and questions for employees, too, as they questioned whether or not they had the skill sets necessary to survive and thrive during any economic crisis.

“We have seen a number of people enter our Ken Blanchard Executive MBA and MBA program as a response to the most recent (economic) downturn,” says Kevin Barksdale, dean of the Ken Blanchard College of Business at Grand Canyon University. “Some have done so because they had become unexpectedly unemployed.  Others as a hedge against that possibility.”

One thing educators say you can bank on, though, is that in the wake of the recession, fewer firms are paying for school.

“The current economic conditions have created more of a ‘hirers’ market and firms are looking for more educated people for their talent pool,” says Bill Berry, dean of the University of Phoenix School of Business. “These firms are paying less for education, but still want a well-educated workforce.”

As a result, Valley educators who cater to executives who aspire to prepare themselves for new levels of leadership have had to learn to become more nimble and adaptable with their curriculum and methods.

“The environment has been so unstable and change has become so constant,” Barksdale says, “that we have had to be willing to move quickly to support our executive students.”

One new program that is catering to the changing demands of the workforce and need for immediacy in the business community is the Master’s in Management (MiM) program at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business. The program launches this semester.

(MiM) degrees are shortened programs that cost less, don’t require years of work experience, and provide recent graduates with the business fundamentals they will need to launch themselves into the workforce faster than MBA programs. A survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) reports a 69 percent spike in applications for MiM programs in the United States.

“GMAT takers and MBA applicants are getting younger and have less experience, signaling an increased demand for graduate business training without the work experience typically associated with an MBA,” says Dawn Feldman, executive director of the Center for Executive and Professional Development at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “In addition, employers have been indicating they need employees with strong problem-solving skills and fundamental business knowledge. Our MiM program is just nine months long and helps new grads to complement their existing knowledge from other fields with a basic business foundation. MiM programs already have a long record of success with students and employers in other areas of the world, such as Europe. We’re enthusiastic about the diversity of our incoming class.”

ASU’s MiM program is designed to take aspiring entrepreneurs and students from non-business backgrounds and teach them real-world skills that can immediately be translated and applied to a professional work environment and give them an edge in the competitive job market.

The University of Phoenix also offers its own Master of Management degree.
“Because University of Phoenix adapts our course curriculum based on changing industry trends and skills employers are looking for in their workforce,” Berry says, “the Master of Management degree is best fitting with the stated needs of today’s employers focusing on the skills required to work in a highly collaborative and culturally diverse organization.”

While those entering the workplace are looking for an edge on the competition, developing talent already working in the trenches was something that was a luxury during the economic downturn.

But as the economy transitions from recession to recovery mode, businesses are starting to focus on positioning themselves for future growth and developing internal talent.

“In the last six months we’ve seen a real increase in the number of organizations inquiring about leadership development opportunities for their employees,” Feldman says. “They know that their internal efforts alone aren’t enough. They’re seeking opportunities to develop people by exposing them to the business perspectives and practical knowledge that faculty at the W. P. Carey School of Business are uniquely positioned to share.”

With that in mind, the Center for Executive and Professional Development created the Leadership Development Workshops, a series of five standalone courses on topics that range from driving employee engagement to leading effective team processes. The workshops are designed for managers, project or team leaders, and those looking to advance into management roles. They can also provide a strong foundation for seasoned professionals who have little formal management education.

“W. P. Carey faculty are recognized worldwide for their research and thought leadership,” according to Gerry Keim, chairman of the department of management. “Yet it’s their skill at bringing new trends and best practice discussions into the classroom, focusing on the practical application of concepts in the current business environment, that makes the W. P. Carey School an incredible resource for managers and executives.”

The 2012 workshop topics include Driving Employee Engagement, Effective Negotiations, Inspiration and Motivation as Leadership Tools, Harvesting Knowledge From Frontline Employees, Leading Effective Team Processes. Topics for the 2013 workshops are being developed.

“Whether individuals attend all five or just one workshop, they will come away with new skills and approaches to business practices that will ultimately positively affect their employees and their organization’s bottom line,” Feldman says.

Regardless of what route business executives take to get there — whether it’s a workshop or going back to school to get and MBA — educators say the current focus of executive education is on the practical application of knowledge.

“Executives want learning opportunities that build capabilities and immediately allow participants to do their jobs better,” Feldman says. “Second, technology has given us the opportunity to build engaging learning experiences that connect people regardless of location, so online programs mirror the way work is done in today’s global business environment.”

The availability on online education has made it easier than ever for executives to expand their knowledge base.

“Our eMBA is an accelerated and blended model with face-to-face interaction during three distinct residencies and online learning in between,” Barksdale says. “Our MBA programs are offered face to face — traditional style — and online.”

In addition to the online options available, Barksdale says he has observed another change in executive education.

“I think the biggest shift has been the increased desire on the part of the student to learn more about themselves, their personal styles, and subsequently their leadership skills,” Barksdale acknowledges. “We have found executive learners to be more open than ever to receiving critical feedback with respect to how they lead and what might need to change.”
While executives may see furthering their education as a solo endeavor, educators urge them to seek out the guidance of others before embarking on their journey.

“Seek advice from your personal board of directors,” Barksdale says. “Discuss the reasons you want to go back to school. What would you do with the new knowledge?  Talk to students in the programs you are considering. Ask them questions around the curriculum, the learning environment, and the learning culture. Consider whether the programs you are looking at devote significant time to leadership development or not. This to me is critical in the life of an executive.  Finally, some people might suggest to choose a program that fits your lifestyle.  While this is not bad advice, I might add that if you are looking for the MBA or graduate degree to be a transformational journey, perhaps you might consider a program that intentionally alters your lifestyle. The disruption can be a good thing if you use it to re-focus and re-center your career and life trajectory.”

The W. P. Carey School of Business contributed to this story. To learn more, visit knowwpcarey.com.