The WILP (Work Integrated Learning Programmes) division of Birla Institute of Technology & Science (BITS) Pilani, which exclusively focus on addressing education and upskilling needs for working professionals, has witnessed a significant rise in demand for executive education as the severity of the Covid pandemic abates in the country.
The demand at BITS is primarily fuelled by the industry’s need to upskill employees and managers for a world of work that has been constantly transforming with the advent of new-age digital technologies.
In an interaction with People Matters, Rajiv Tandon, chief executive officer of the BITS Pilani WILP, talks about the reasons for the rising demand for executive education from companies and leaders after the pandemic, the role of executive education in the evolution of leaders in the post-pandemic world and what the future of executive education looks like.
Here are some excerpts.
Why is there a rise in demand for executive education after the pandemic?
While vaccines provided immunity to people to survive, these digital technologies were like a vaccine to many businesses and helped them survive and thrive even in the most challenging circumstances posed by the pandemic.
The adoption of new digital business practices and technologies that was catalysed and fast-forwarded by the pandemic, continues even in times when the pandemic has seemingly begun to recede.
For instance, a McKinsey survey recently revealed that data-driven organisations are 23 times more likely to acquire customers, 6 times as likely to retain those customers, and 19 times as likely to be profitable compared to other organisations, which do otherwise. Such strong incentives through the adoption of digital technologies will likely motivate companies to continue to invest in them, even in the post-pandemic times.
The capacity to imagine and reimagine, transform, and sometimes also transcend existing business models, processes, and products to completely new and better ways using digital technologies has been recognised as critical by a large number of sectors and organisations.
Most such organisations also realise a critical digital and techno-management skills gap among their people and managers; accordingly, they are sponsoring their employees for programmes in domains, such as business analytics, digital business, data science, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML), fintech, digital manufacturing, and IoT among others. These programmes from BITS Pilani’s Work Integrated Learning Division have witnessed a trailblazing enrolment growth ranging from 25% to 250% post-pandemic.
How valuable is executive education for leadership in the post-pandemic world? Do you think there is a need to reimagine executive education?
The value and status of executive education in the evolution of leaders is shifting from “Good to Do” to “Must Do” activity for organisations.
The term VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) that, during the pre-pandemic times, was talked about a lot (almost becoming a cliche) to describe the challenges of the modern business environment. However, while the world optimistically waited for the storm to settle and hoped that the intensity of VUCA effect will abate with the receding pandemic, more challenges have arrived. I call these recent challenges the New WWF -- War, Weather & Financial Crunch.
The war in Europe, the unprecedented frequency of extreme weather events and the liquidity crunch triggered by the increase in Repo Rates by major central banks can potentially pose serious new threats to the extremely interdependent and interconnected global economy. Also, organisations while wrestling with the new WWF challenges also cannot ignore that the pandemic is not over yet and is still constantly evolving and continue to disrupt business and supply chains in many parts of the world.
It seems waiting out the storm or imagining a calmer post-pandemic world is not an option for businesses that are determined to thrive and find ways of transforming headwinds into tailwinds.
It is clear to most businesses, which are determined to thrive in this constant and extreme VUCA environment that they will need to nurture a lot of capacity development in leadership, change management, innovation and entrepreneurship, creativity and design thinking, strategic planning, and Digital & Data skills for all its existing and potential leaders at various levels.
Pre-pandemic historical trends show relatively reduced spends on executive education at times when organisations entered a phase marked by an extreme business environment challenge; however, I do think that the post-pandemic future would be different.
Extreme VUCA will likely no longer be a phase but perhaps an integral characteristic of modern business environments. Businesses will realise that they will need to constantly invest in developing their leaders to thrive in such an environment.
Executive education can become one of the constant primary tools for businesses to help prepare their leaders and equip them with knowledge, skills and attitudes, which will help them wade through the challenging business environment. Meticulously designed custom executive education programmes built in close collaboration with business and HR leaders could deliver great outcomes in leadership development and capacity building.
What does the future of executive education look like?
Grass certainly seems greener and calmer when we nostalgically think of the pre-pandemic times.
The memory of those high-touch and intensely social learning experiences delivered to a small group of executives who flew in from different parts of the world to the sprawling campuses of top institutions is still fresh in our minds.
There is a craving to simply go back to that old normal and watch those executives attend in small groups some of the most stimulating classroom environments in a traditional physical setting. However, nostalgia must now give way to new ways that were discovered or stumbled upon, while institutions were struggling to keep the lights on during the pandemic and transitioning their executive education programmes online.
Once used out of desperation, these new technologies which enabled continuity in education, show immense promise of both scaling up and also personalising executive education programmes to a new level.
My educated guess is that we will likely move towards creating an Executive Education Metaverse in about 5 to 10 years.
Currently, too, some creatively designed Executive Education Programmes are either blending technology-based interventions in traditional small group physical programmes to enhance pre- and post-programme experience or taking some courses fully online to provide access to a much larger number of executives.
These hybrid and online programmes also integrate better into the post-pandemic worklife of executives that is increasingly characterised by remote as well as hybrid working.
I see a huge trend in the future moving towards both small group hybrid learning models that are priced at a premium and also fully online courses that cost a fraction and provide access to a large number of executives in a cost-effective and flexible manner.
Additionally, visible strides in technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will likely enhance remote experiences, which are much more immersive and will be much closer to high-touch experiences offered in physical classrooms.
So, brace for greater integration of advanced technologies in the future of executive education, which is aimed at providing greater access, enhanced flexibility, and much higher levels of immersion through the new Executive Education Metaverse.
What are the courses most sought-after in the pandemic's wake?
We see that the Digital and Techno-Management domains seem to be trending among the learners and their sponsors.
Digital transformation of existing processes and products as well as setting up new digital businesses are apparently some of the key priorities for various progressive organisations.
We also see demand for upskilling in areas like AI, data science, business analytics, digital marketing, digital business management, and fintech, as they continue to rev up the executive education space.