Centre for Board & Director DevelopmentDr Phil Considine report for The Times Business & Economy Review 30 Sept 2021

What are the key trends in executive education?

We are seeing a shift both in terms of content and consumption. Regarding delivery people are now asking for flexibility and the ability to personalise their learning. This can be achieved in several ways – we use micro-credentials as a tool to allow us to build very bespoke programmes. These are co-created to meet the needs of specific organisations and sectors – so we find ourselves working much more closely with senior leaders and their top teams within the organisations to craft programmes that are specific to them. In terms of content there has been a significant jump in the needs of organisations from all sectors to fully understand the implication of digital transformation and the tools and techniques available to senior managers and leaders. Pre-pandemic this was a trend that we knew was important but that was sector specific – post pandemic it impacts everyone and every sector from the ability to work remotely to service delivery, order fulfilment and customer interactions. There have also been significant challenges for senior leaders in the level of complexity that they are having to deal with – decisions that were once straightforward such as bonus payments of shareholder dividend payments have taken on a level of complexity previously unknown – can or should a business really pay senior manager a bonus while staff have been furloughed? So, we are seeing questions of equity, ethics and social responsibility becoming much more mainstream. Net zero is providing another set of challenges for executives and they are asking for guidance on both the impact and the operations implications of new zero and the shift towards electrification of the economy. What was very telling was that we ran a knowledge exchange with a group of around 30 directors from a range of organisations from global multinationals and high growth SMES to local social and third sectors enterprises. When we discussed the challenges that they are facing the obvious concerns around post pandemic finances were very low on the list of concerns that the directors had – it was very much around complexity, staff welfare, talent development and retentions but more importantly how our organisation can be the catalysts to build back better and to create an economy underpinned by inclusive growth and a more equitable system.

How has the pandemic impacted the demand for executive education and how it is delivered?

The demand for executive education has remained strong throughout the pandemic however there is an understanding that some of our programmes need to be delivered in person. We immediately moved to a hybrid delivery model of online synchronous and asynchronous content and this continues – although there can be difficulties in delivering our applied experiential and personalised learning in this way. This is especially true of the developmental elements where the groups themselves are a significant resource and their combined experiences are central to the learning. This has meant finding ways of keeping engagement high while waiting for the opportunity to add in person content from our subject matter experts – so for instance we ran a global webinar series on building back after global disruption and our Centre for Board and Director Development have held a series of Knowledge Exchange events giving inputs by thought leaders on key topics. Our programmes for Directors of High Growth SMEs had to rethink how best we engage, and we ran a series of on line events while recognising that much of the added value comes from the live discussions and it is only now that we can get back into the room together that we see the benefit of delivering the knowledge and content in a hybrid way but with the real impact coming from the live group discussions.

How has Strathclyde Uni adapted to the pandemic when it comes to executive education?

We are fortunate in that we have access to learning technologists and digital content specialists who were able to help us quickly get our content online and our virtual learning environment allowed us to deliver using a hybrid model. That said it has been down to our teams and their willingness to adapt – there is a myth about younger colleagues being digital natives and older ones being digital immigrants – we have found that not to be the case and it is all about the ability to rise to the challenge which some of our, let’s say euphemistically, more senior colleagues have shown that you do not need to teach old dogs new tricks as they are more than capable of leading the way when it comes to innovative content and delivery channels.

Impact of Brexit on executive education?

There is no doubt that Brexit has had an impact on Executive Education but not always in the ways that we might imagine. We work with organisations of all shapes, sizes, and sectors and for some this means a growth in the complexity of what they are doing – of moving into new markets and creating new opportunities and we can help with this. For others – particularly our global multinationals these factors are less of a concern however their ability to move staff around is slightly more challenging and we work with both groups to help them to understand their value proposition and how best to shift resources to support the new strategies needed to succeed in the post Brexit world. For other – those working in hospitality, health and social care delivery and tourism the challenges are much more testing. They face recruitment and retention difficulties some of which feel insurmountable – this is where we have to work closely with them to help design and develop creative ways of delivering services while being constrained by their ability to bring in their main resource – people.

What are the opportunities and the challenges?

The opportunities are significant – we are moving into a period combing post pandemic growth, uncertainty, new ways of working and changing societal expectations. Helping our senior leaders to navigate this context is what will allow them to build the robust successful businesses that will underpin the inclusive growth that must be our post pandemic priority. The challenge is making sure that this happens and that we do not simply see a continuation of the growth of inequality that we were witnessing in the post global financial crisis years. We have seen what can be achieved by co-operation between organisations and the importance of a strong sense of values and ethics in the leadership of these organisation – we need to ensure that this is not forgotten post pandemic and we do not see a return to the all too regular cases of corporate malfeasance, short-sightedness, and inequity

Information on your MSc Digital Transformation programme?

Our digital transformation programme is one of the flagship offerings that we have developed during the pandemic. It typifies the flexible and hybrid nature of the post pandemic world – we have a range of pathways and delivery channels. We offer an Executive Education short course to give senior executives an understanding of what Digital Transformation means – the opportunities that it presents and the potential impact of digital and AI on their business models. We have a short online version that give a more operational perspective on the strategies for Digital Transformation and how to ensure Digital is at the heart of business and we offer a full Masters for those requiring a more in depth understanding of how Digital Transformation can benefit an organisation and how best to futureproof in times of turbulence.

Anything you would like to add?

We are also finding that there has been a significant growth in demand for tailored corporate qualifications using apprenticeship funding in both Scotland and England. We have designed programmes that allow organisations to access the English Senior Leaders Apprenticeship levy and the Graduate Apprenticeships in Scotland.