Knowledge Wave Hits Executive Training

Trainers need to be innovative to capture today’s highly competitive education and training market. The Knowledge Wave seminars held couple of months back, underscored what most of us knew but often ignored – keeping up to date with changing delivery methods and technology-based training is part and parcel of the move toward globalisation.
Critics argue that the quality of New Zealand management has slipped. If this is true, to what extent is the slippage consequence of not keeping up? NZIM national chief executive David Chapman says his institute’s research shows gap between what managers know they should be doing and what they are actually doing. An outcome of this is reflected in the way New Zealand has continued to slide down the Organisation for Economic and Cultural Development (OECD) ranking of international competitiveness.
“Some senior managers feel they are beyond training. They are so busy in their jobs they no doubt feel taking care of – day-to-day – business is their priority,” says Chapman. “However, there are many opportunities for them to participate in continuing professional development through seminars, workshops and focused short courses.”
Both companies and employees are looking for training which builds toward credible qualification. The Knowledge Wave seminars pointed out that companies should not be content with just satisfying immediate training needs, but realise that ongoing training reaps benefits for individuals and organisations alike. Training and education should be viewed as part of savvy retention strategy. Employees are more likely to stay with an organisation if they are given appropriate training opportunities to advance their careers.
What are some of the changes impacting the management training and education market? Most providers agree that job life spans are shrinking. There is greater interest in getting qualified and more importance placed on credentials and recognition of prior experience and learning. Chapman believes there is inadequate practitioner training for small to medium businesses at lower levels and an inability for most people to keep up with the pace of change. This presents challenge to the traditional ways of doing things.
So what are companies looking for in today’s training and education sector? For start they expect positive return on their training investment. This can be calculated in dollar terms or in demonstrating change in behaviour in the workplace including improved skill levels. Training must be more targeted and customised around the results of skill assessment analysis.
Demand for in-house delivery of training programmes has increased significantly – by perhaps as much as 60 percent in some regions, estimates Chapman. It is popular because it is customised and focuses on an organisation’s specific needs. “It is about convenience and lower opportunity cost because participants do not have to move far from their jobs. It is also about developing culture based on company values and growing people to meet the organisational vision. Some companies have their own trainers but bring in outside trainers to provide expertise in particular areas,” he says.
A negative aspect of in-house delivery is the insular environment within an organisation – employees miss out on the wider interaction that frequently occurs on public programmes.
Other providers question the reality of trend toward in-house delivery. Many companies don’t have the training facilities in place to conduct in-house education. Graham Kirby, national manager sales and marketing at ExecuTrain of New Zealand, says organisations frequently use combination of outsource and in-house services to provide training. “Initially organisations may consider the perceived initial lower cost of in-house services as the major benefit. The ongoing cost of courseware development and updating, plus the time spent on upskilling as new releases hit the market, often shows outsourced services in better light.”
Technology too has changed the market. Many of the new delivery options for training are internet based and take advantage of the availability and lower costs of increased communication bandwidth. Internet based training and associated learning management systems administration for self-paced or tutor-led training has grown in the last two years.
But many of the available products are still not being developed based on true learning methodologies and are often boring to use. The New Zealand marketplace is still immature in its acceptance of technology-based training when compared with what’s available in other countries. With one of the highest ratios of internet connections in the world, this is likely to change rapidly as higher quality products are released.
Kirby believes that the next phase of growth in technology learning will be based around the ‘virtual classroom’ delivery for distance learning. “This is well suited to the regionally distributed nature of larger New Zealand businesses. This option, together with ‘broadband’ active or passive satellite transmission to either PC or TV will change individual learning providers’ delivery patterns,” he says.
Maintaining trust is key issue for providers – organisations need to be sure they can rely on providers to understand their needs and meet them. The New Zealand Army turned to Auldhouse Computer Training to upgrade its entire computer network to Windows 2000. “We wanted to ensure our communication and information systems (CIS) staff were properly trained to use Windows 2000,” says national LAN manager, Richard Hitchcock.
“With more than 3000 desktops throughout New Zealand and offshore, including posts in East Timor, it is vital that the CIS staff have the right training to allow for the smooth deployment of the new software,” explains Hitchcock. The Windows 2000 training is five-day course held for some 40 CIS staff. This course uses Microsoft official curriculum (MOC) and has been customised to suit the Army’s requirements.
Skill shortages of properly trained managers are another factor impacting the market. Some senior management programmes that used to be held over, say, four weeks are now held over two weeks. Two-year overseas MBA programmes are trimmed to one year. This raises serious questions about what is being taught in half the time.
Many individuals are studying management and business at tertiary institutions. These programmes have sometimes been described as ‘cash cows’ for the institutions concerned. Whether the right people are taking the programmes and whether they are being taught the right stuff for the future is moot point.
MBA directors are, however, quick to point out the differences and particular strengths of their courses but without system of benchmarking here, it is difficult to establish which courses are more useful, tougher to get through, and likely to be recognised internationally.
Directors of today’s MBA programmes acknowledge the strengths of online assisted learning and most courses have adapted their delivery to keep pace with changing technology. However, directors of MBAs are unanimous about the crucial role face-to-face discussion still provides. As Regena Mitchell, director Executive MBA (Auckland) at Otago University says: “It is essential for students trying to bring about change that they learn how to be diplomatic. It comes as no surprise that learning skills to resolve conflict is easier in classroom setting, than in chat room.”

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