Message from the Chair: The Case for Executive Development under COVID-19

Message from the Chair: The Case for Executive Development under COVID-19

Message from the Chair: The Case for Executive Development under COVID-19

Dear UNICON colleagues,

Besides shuttering economies around the world, COVID-19 has battered education systems in both developed and developing countries. As stated by the World Economic Forum, some 1.5 billion students — close to 90% of all primary, secondary and tertiary learners in the world — are no longer able to physically go to school. The impact has been dramatic and transformative as educators scramble to put in place workable short-term solutions for remote teaching and learning.

While each level of education faces its unique challenges, it is the higher education segment that may end up, by necessity, triggering a learning revolution. Universities are distinctive in that their students are both old enough to handle the rigors of remote work and technologically savvy enough to navigate new platforms. So, a critical challenge lies for the institutions in which they enroll.

What does this imply for Executive Education? As Mauro Guillén, Professor of International Management at The Wharton School, shared during UNICON’s town hall meeting held last week, COVID-19 presents not only immediate challenges, but also several opportunities that will arise in the near future. This pandemic is creating new dynamics and needs in fields like Supply Chain, Automation, Remote Work, Talent Management, Customer Engagement, among other ones that will play a critical role in organizational recovery and success. So, executive development can, and should, play an active role to anticipate such needs and support both individuals and organizations in a successful manner.

In addition to this, it is also crucial to reflect on the role that executive and professional development will play in the future of higher education overall. A young person entering university this year will probably be at the peak of his or her career in around 2050. Even at the current rate of social and technological change, he or she will certainly inhabit a different world. So, creating a transformational evolution of higher education to be relevant under such context will require developing novel services for adults learning while working – which is precisely what executive development units provide.

As leaders within this field, we need to play an active role and make the case for Executive Education within the higher education landscape. In progressing through about several decades of employment under the current technological development and societal changes, professionals and executives will face not only evolving jobs requiring expanding skillsets, but also multiple careers as some occupations disappear and new roles appear in workplaces shaped by globalization, environmental crises, and new technologies. Higher Education institutions that have active executive and professional education programs display not only relevant and valuable academic content delivered through their faculty, but also a strong understanding of the needs as they integrate the experiences of practitioners into the programs that they offer. So, nurturing a higher education brand that provides such capabilities and expertise, as university-based executive education units do, will be crucial for higher education institutions worldwide if they want to succeed.

With the online segment still comprising a small fraction of the $2.2 trillion global higher education market — less than 2%, according to market intelligence firm HolonIQ — the market is also ripe for disruption. The appetite from adults for online offerings will likely grow because of COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, many universities were seeing declines in enrolment for campus-based programs and parallel increases in uptake of their online courses. With COVID-19, we are seeing how yesterday’s disruptors can become today’s lifeguards. While some institutions once viewed online education as a threat, it has come to their rescue. So, while the in-person component is, and will be somehow, a key piece of our university-based executive education value proposition, the same may happen for our academic portfolio as we will need to adapt and evolve.

Achieving this shared vision for executive education will require connecting in an effective and successful manner with key actors and stakeholders involved – faculty, staff, deans, clients, among other ones within the executive development landscape. UNICON’s Virtual Workshop, titled ‘Innovation through Connection‘ and organized by Yale School of Management, will precisely explore how to improve client, staff and faculty relationships. Through this event, UNICON member institutions will be able to identify creative opportunities to leverage pre-existing, university-based resources in programs and events; learn to reframe client interactions to develop a more intimate understanding of their needs and create communications that resonate; gain tools to improve team, client, and participant relationships; and craft meaningful workspaces to fuel the efforts of those on their team and in their programs. All of this, in addition to the opportunity to connect and reconnect with peers in the university-based Executive Education industry.

In his short story ‘On rigor in Science’ (‘Del rigor de la Ciencia‘), which consists of just a single paragraph, the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges describes a special country. In this country, the science of cartography is so sophisticated that only the most detailed of maps will do – that is, a map of scale 1:1, as large as the country itself. Its citizens soon realize that such a map does not provide any insight, since it merely duplicates what they already know. Borges’ map is an extreme case of the information bias, which we may need to avoid under the current challenges that COVID-19 presents: the delusion that more information guarantees better decisions. While additional insights will always be useful, we need to forget trying to amass all the data and do our best right now to get by with bare facts, which will help us make better decisions. We need to engage and connect with key actors and stakeholders involved in the executive education landscape, to create such shared vision and move forward to make things happen.

I look forward to connecting with you during the SHRM and UNICON Voice of the Customer during COVID-19 webinar Wednesday, June 10 at 9:00 am Eastern time. I will be interviewing Alexander Alonso, Chief Knowledge Officer, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Alonso recently contributed an opinion piece to CNN Business Perspectives entitled Here’s what the future of work will look like.Contact me if there are specific questions you’d like addressed.

Marco Serrato, Ph.D.
UNICON 2019-2020 Board Chair
Associate Provost, The University of Chicago


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