Executive education pays dividends. These non-degree programs for senior managers provide credentials for career advancement, a diverse professional network, and insights from faculty. But that comes at a cost of money, effort and time. And the question of how to finance executive education is becoming more pressing at a time when many companies are facing financial pressures from high inflation and economic uncertainty.
But there are still ample opportunities for senior managers to convince their organization to invest in their learning, particularly when many businesses are trying to hold on to their top performers at a time of high attrition and a strong job market with many more vacancies than candidates who can fill them.
“When budgets are tight, convincing an employer to invest in training can be challenging — however, the most compelling case links to tangible, measurable outcomes. Giving leaders at all levels of an organization the soft skills to lead teams and accelerate innovation ultimately drives revenue growth and business success,” says Bryan Benjamin, Executive Director, The Ivey Academy in Canada.
“Executive education also helps identify, develop and retain top talent – a critical strategic enabler in a tight recruiting market. It allows organizations to navigate leadership succession amidst a massive generational shift, building and advancing a pipeline of future leaders,” he says, citing the impending retirement of baby boomers.
“Investing early -- and often -- saves enormous costs associated with turnover and recruiting. Positioning training as an investment rather than a cost, you can guide your employer to realize the long-term benefits of a highly-skilled and knowledgeable workforce,” says Benjamin.
At Ivey, all the executive education programs are designed with actionable learning outcomes in mind. “Through experiential learning based in the case method, participants practice new skills in a safe environment where they can receive feedback and engage in self-reflection,” Benjamin adds. “Individuals leave with not only the knowledge and skills to tackle challenges back at work, but also more confidence in their abilities.”
Diverse sources of funding for executive education
Other business schools are optimistic on the funding landscape for executive education, given that it can deliver several intangible benefits. “When discussing executive education return-on-investment, we must consider that it goes beyond financial gain as we cannot measure it solely in monetary terms. These programs also facilitate personal growth, the acquisition of soft and interpersonal skills, and the development of a strong network,” says Matias Gonano, Marketing and Business Development Director at ESSEC Business School in France.
The ESSEC alumni network is composed of 60,000 members worldwide, for instance.
To convince an employer to pay for your training, it is essential to demonstrate how the skills you will learn will positively affect you, and contribute to the company by generating revenue cost savings. “Additionally, you can identify a challenge or problem that your company is facing and propose to work on it during your strategic project or professional thesis, acting as an in-house consultant,” says Claire Szlingier, Head of International Sales and Marketing at ESSEC.
Executive education is also an opportunity for you to show your loyalty to the company in return for its support, she adds.
So how do business schools support candidates on executive education programs financially? ESSEC offers a wide range of merit-based scholarships. “Candidates meeting the requirements can apply to a scholarship by writing an essay to receive funding for up to one third of program fees.” Money flows to candidates keen on entrepreneurship or who are, women leaders, high-potential executives, or candidates from emerging countries among others.
Furthermore, ESSEC has established strong partnerships with many banks, including Societé Générale in France, and to provide international candidates with advantageous interest rates on loans.
But Szlingier and others stress that now is a good time to approach an employer for funding for executive education. “More workers than ever are quitting their jobs. It is not simply a question of increasing the pay cheque anymore, but rather, companies need to find new ways of attracting and retaining talent in a tight labour market,” says Vera Huebner, Head of Executive Education at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management in Germany.
One way to tighten the ties between a company and its employees is by offering individual development through executive education. “The labour market and the wider economic world are becoming less predictive and more volatile through a variety of external influences, like digital transformation. Offering employees the chance to get prepared for their future by enrolling them in executive programs, should definitely increase chances to attract and retain talent,” Huebner adds.