Everything is delivered to us in short, palatable bite-sized pieces these days, whether it's music, computers or television viewing, and executive education is following the trend for the short and sweet. Rather than asking people to plough through an arduous Master of Business Administration degree, universities and industry bodies are offering growing numbers of short courses, usually two to four-day seminars designed to plug knowledge gaps often exposed by a new job or promotion.
Choosing where you go for your short course is important if you want to include it in your CV or on your LinkedIn profile. Recruitment consultants advise that you look carefully at the brand of the course provider if you want to shout about it.
If you are a senior leader, Harvard or Stanford are an option, although the strategic leadership courses run at the Millbrook Resort by the Institute of Strategic Leadership have an excellent reputation, attracting a rarefied mix of the great and the good.
For those in middle management, courses abound, with a growing trend for executives to want concrete qualifications for the roles they are doing or perhaps have fallen into. Meanwhile for organisations wanting to inspire a whole team, all short-course providers are happy to design your own in-house programme.
The important question is, do these courses make you more marketable? Richard Manthel, managing director of international recruitment consultancy Robert Walters, says although short courses are not viewed as a qualification by employers, they do demonstrate a willingness to further your skills and education. "Giving examples of how you used the course or new-found skills in your role is a valuable evaluation tool for potential employers."
Chris Johnson, executive coach and partner at recruitment consultancy Kerridge & Partners, is an advocate of doing courses for the sake of personal development.
Think of it as a personal warrant of fitness, he says.
"The day that we stop learning is the day you have seriously got to question if you are in the right job, " the coach says.
He recommends short courses be very specific and related to your work.
"It's got to stack up - does it add something to your CV? Have you learnt from it?
H2R consultant Jane Walker says many short courses don't add a lot of value once you have reached a certain level of seniority. You have to start looking overseas to the top universities such as Harvard or Stanford if you want more training, she says. But for the just promoted, or a new graduate, locally run short courses can have their place. Courses in social networking, for instance, can be helpful. Others are just too esoteric.
For many, going back to the old alma mater can be the most natural move when you want more knowledge. Massey University academic policy manager Shelley Paewai says the university often gets approaches from alumni about running a short course for them.
Massey is more than happy to oblige. Short courses are a good way of keeping up links with former students. These programmes are a lucrative source of income now and in the future.
In Massey's case, the short courses are taught by existing lecturers. "We are drawing on links that are already there, " she says. Lecturers will often get direct approaches from former students now working in business.
Massey can deliver short courses in a variety of ways, Paewai says. Some will have online content and in certain cases the lecturer will travel to a different location to suit the students.
"These are very busy people who can't commit to completing six full 15-credit papers over a period of two years, but they can commit to short courses that deliver them the skills "just in time", says the policy manager.
One of the differences between Massey and the University of Auckland Business School's short courses is that the latter's course presenters are sourced from all over the world, many of them from industry. Darren Levy, director of executive development, says the University of Auckland prides itself on its presenters, local and international.
There are many people who are good at research or consulting or teaching, but Levy says he is looking for the breadth of all of three. Plus, they have to be good at engaging an executive audience. "People expect a lot, " he says.
During the financial crisis, there has been more demand for tangible finance and project-management courses, as well as for mental toughness, resilience and leadership in tough times, says the director.
"We are very responsive to the market. We are constantly adding programmes. We are in a constant state of flux, " Levy says. He emphasises that short-course attendees have to "use it or lose it" once they finish a course.
University of Auckland Business School short-course alumnus and technology entrepreneur Richard Gill was inspired by his course with Stanford University's Tony Seba, an expert in marketing high- tech products.
Gill and Seba are now friends and the former Silicon Valley chief executive is a great contact for the Kiwi entrepreneur. Both are now exploring clean technology.
Not uncommonly for a short-course attendee, Gill does not have a university degree. An entrepreneur with four start- ups behind him, he is, however, a knowledge junkie. "I'm self taught in everything I do. What I have done is read a lot of books and magazines. I study things, experiment and travel. Learning for me is a lifelong journey." The thing about short courses, says Gill, is that "people are going to them for real skills, rather than qualifications, " he says.
They provide a chance for you to step outside your business and give you very short-focused critical thinking, he says.
This was what Ecomist Systems general manager, Helen Carter-Thompson needed when she attended the finance for non-financial managers short course at the University of Auckland. With a strong sales and marketing background, she needed to be reassured that her finance knowledge was good enough. She enjoyed the brain activity of the course. "As a GM you need to refuel your intellectual tank, " she says. There were also practical benefits. "It was just a two-day course, but I came away with hard-copy resources and a new network of colleagues."
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