As the business world continues to be reshaped by technological advancements, shifting market dynamics, and other factors, many executives and leaders are in pursuit of knowledge and skills to stay ahead. Executive education has never been more relevant and more in demand than it is today.
From seasoned executives aiming to fine-tune their leadership capabilities to mid-career professionals seeking to pivot or accelerate their careers, the demand for executive education programs has increased, underlining its role in personal and organizational growth.
“In recent years, the demand for executive education has grown, primarily fueled by an uncertain and volatile global business landscape. Executives are also increasingly seeking specialized knowledge to succeed in digital transformation, emphasizing data-driven decision-making and AI integration,” says Mandy Hübener, Director of Executive Programs at ESMT Berlin.
“Additionally, sustainability and ESG considerations have taken center stage, prompting executives to seek executive education programs that help them integrate these principles into their organizations’ strategies.”
The imperative for upskilling and reskilling has never been greater, driving executives to enroll in short, targeted programs that provide the skills needed to stay competitive.
“They also recognize the importance of adapting to new work paradigms, such as remote and hybrid models, and are turning to executive education to navigate these shifts effectively. The accelerated adoption of remote and blended learning formats due to the COVID-19 pandemic has further facilitated their pursuit of education,” says Hübener.
How economic cycles impact demand
The economic cycle is also impacting demand for different forms of executive education. A few years ago, business schools seemed to concur on the general rule that open programs are in high demand in difficult job markets, and custom programs for companies thrive in economic growth periods. “We do observe that this rule seems to have changed lately as we are entering a life-long learning era,” says Cécile Arragon, the Executive Director for Business Development at HEC Paris Executive Education.
“Professionals need to be trained regularly to keep up with fast changes, no matter what the job market is like, and companies need to reinvent themselves at a fast pace too, probably even more so when the economic situation is difficult or uncertain,” she says. “This has a stabilizing effect on the demand we get for both our activities. Academic environments are a clear asset in uncertain times for both individuals and companies.”
After an all-digital period during Covid, Arragon is seeing a clear increase in the demand for face-to-face courses, enabling high value networking between participants and with professors. “The intensity and the variety of the experience we offer that includes many other components than just the quality of the education, has become a key expectation from our participants,” she says.
Another key trend is the expectation from participants for their educational journey to be modular and tailor-made to their exact needs and objectives, adds Arragon.
Intensifying competition from course providers
The executive education market, while growing, has seen increased competition through the entrance of new players such as edtech companies and consulting firms, raising pressure on business schools. “We stay competitive by working on three aspects: deliver academic excellence and translate the latest research of our faculty into offerings suitable for business executives, continuously enhance the didactical skills of our faculty and teaching practitioners, and invest in and pilot innovative use of technology in teaching,” says Matthias Catón, Head of Executive Education at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management.
Last year, the school launched its Office of Learning Innovation, an in-house scout and consultant for new technologies.
Beyond this, competing with new players will mean business schools demonstrating the tangible value of their executive education offerings. Measuring the return on investment (ROI) very much depends on the specific program, says Catón. “Programs on new regulatory requirements, for example, offer a very obvious value for every organization affected by the respective regulation and also for the individual employee in charge of handling it.”
Other programs with a focus rather on meta skills are more difficult to assess, however. “We use surveys, feedback and ongoing dialogue with participants and clients to measure the attainment of learning objectives and the tangible value delivered through the programs,” Catón says.
“Organizations can track the impact on individual career progression, such as promotions or salary increments, and organizational improvements, like enhanced productivity or profitability. However, sometimes, it is difficult to isolate the different influencing factors.”
Nevertheless, as participants navigate a changing business climate, one thing becomes clear: the pursuit of knowledge and growth have become non-negotiable imperatives for individuals and organizations alike.