After a pandemic lull, demand for executive education programs for senior leaders of organizations has bounced back strongly. And even as the threat of an economic recession rises, business schools are optimistic that they can sustain the resurgent appetite for their executive training courses.
One reason for their optimism is that employers cannot find enough workers because of the historical tightness in labor markets across the developed world. Corporations need ways to attract and retain talented staff who are in short supply — and many firms are being persuaded to sponsor executive education participants as part of that process.
“It is something we are seeing more and more: our corporate partners either offer grants for training aimed at developing professionals in fields where jobs are in high demand, or some of them also integrate training days at HEC as part of their incentive packages,” says Cecile Aragon, Executive Director of Business Development for executive education at HEC Paris. “It is very efficient in terms of attractivity and retention of talented staff.”
A powerful tool for attracting top talent
Steven Grundy, Corporate Business Development Director of the Executive Education division of Cambridge Judge Business School in the UK, agrees that now is a good time for employees to approach their firm for funding. “In such a competitive job market, demonstrating commitment to learning and development can be a powerful tool to help attract and retain the best talent,” says Grundy.
Leveraging the brand of the executive education provider helps firms signal to prospective employees that the quality of developmental opportunities that they provide to their staff is high. “This helps to reassure candidates that they will be integrated into the organization and given the training that they need to grow and succeed,” he adds.
The present situation marks a turnaround from the early days of the pandemic. Covid prompted the buyers of executive courses — corporations and individuals — to cut costs as they strived to absorb the financial impact of lockdowns. The restrictions on travel also hit demand for executive courses delivered in person.
But there is now a resurgence in demand for training programs, as schools have found ways to deliver high quality courses remotely using technology. Online education, and the flexibility and lower cost it offers, has made it even more likely that companies will shell out on executive education programs.
“The shift to online and virtual learning means that business schools are able to offer companies programs that tackle the very problems they are facing right now in complex and changing times, at costs they can afford, and at the time they need these solutions most,” says Nathalie Nawrocki, Executive Director of Corporate Partnerships at INSEAD.
She adds that, coming out of the Covid-19 longtail and into a recession, people are tired. “They’re managing hybrid teams and they might be struggling with life-work balance. This is precisely when we need to energize the workforce, embed new skills and build resilience. And education has a primordial role in getting this right.”
Economic headwinds no barrier to training
No matter the delivery method, schools are bullish on their ability to sustain high demand for training even in the face of economic headwinds. “When a company starts cutting funding for education and development, it’s a sign that they are not necessarily thinking about the future. It can be short-sighted because hiring a new manager can cost more, so cutting training doesn’t always result in savings,” says Stephane Cannone, Director of Executive Education at EDHEC Business School in France.
After the 2008 financial crisis, she says companies that cut back on education and development lost key leaders, and then they had a difficult time finding the right talent to fill those positions. “I think companies will be careful about cutting back on executive education, even during a recession, because they have learned from the past.”
She notes that about half of executive students at EDHEC receive funding from their company. Some receive 100% funding, and others receive 50% funding and cover the rest of the cost independently.
Cannone advises executives to discuss training as part of their annual review and tie it to corporate strategy. “It’s never a good idea to go out on your own to find a program and then ask your supervisor to fund it,” she says. “You need to link your long-term leadership success to corporate strategy and discuss with your supervisor which program corresponds best with your learning needs. There must be mutual buy-in.”
Back at Cambridge Judge, Grundy says that nurturing talent will help an organization to adapt and grow in challenging economic times. “Executive education can support talented staff as they take the next step in their careers,” he says. “Executive education allows organizations to give staff the training that they need to be successful.”
INSEAD’s Nawrocki agrees. “There’s a real war for talent happening right now. The labor market is very much skewed in favor of job seekers and employees, and organizations are going to have to work harder than ever to attract and retain the people they want – or risk losing them to the competition.”