5 ways education is changing for directors

Sunday, 01 September 2019

Zilla Efrat photo
Zilla Efrat

    From short courses to online diplomas, higher education is rapidly changing to accommodate the needs of directors and business leaders.

    What made you successful in terms of education in the past is not necessarily what is needed for the future,” says Joseph Healy MAICD, co-founder of Judo Bank and a lifelong learner. “You may have completed an MBA 15 or 20 years ago, but the world has changed so much. What was taught back then is no longer relevant, so there’s a need for constant life learning. If directors or business leaders don’t have the motivation to do that, then they need to look in the mirror and ask whether they are really fit for purpose in the future or a part of the past.”

    Kee Wong FAICD, a director of Carsales.com.au and the AICD, believes every director has the responsibility to themselves and their organisations to devise their own personal education plan. “Their knowledge needs to be both ‘mile-wide’ — being aware of a broad range of topics needed for their roles — and ‘mile-deep’ — having in-depth expertise in certain areas,” he says.

    A common path for many directors has been to gain an undergraduate degree in an area of specialty such as accounting or engineering. After that, they may later complete an MBA. Professor Nick Wailes, director and deputy dean at the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM), says: “An MBA prepares you for your executive career. It gives you the foundation skills, the network and the insights to become a successful executive. But an MBA and good experience as an executive are not enough to prepare you to become a modern director. You need a further strategy for ongoing learning and insight.”


    One gap that many directors need to plug is technology, which according to Wong needs to be a core area of knowledge for all directors, rather than a side event. “The new economy relies on technology, not just as an enabler of business, but as a creator and destroyer of business,” he says. “If you don’t have any knowledge in that space, you need to get up to speed very quickly.”

    Similarly, Wailes says AGSM has now put an understanding of technology at the core of its MBA program. “Every industry has been impacted by technology. Technology is how you do business. There’s a requirement to have a certain level of knowledge of technology. Just as I’d expect directors to know how accounting works, I’d also expect them to know how software is developed and how technology affects their business. It’s no longer a nice thing to have. It’s a necessary thing to have.”

    Tim Kastelle, associate professor of innovation management and graduate management discipline lead at the University of Queensland Business School, says, “In the past, you’d study a distinct thing at a distinct time for a distinct purpose. But there is definitely a shift from education as a discrete event that happens at a particular time in your life to something you need more access to on a somewhat continuous basis.”

    When it comes to life-long learning and professional education, David Sacks, PwC national education and skills leader, says the move is away from content to a broader mental health focus. “It’s not just about IQ now, but IQ and EQ. It’s really recognising that directors, CEOs and their teams need to function at their best.”

    He adds that most traditional providers and parts of the education value chain are being disrupted except for those providing accreditation. “That said, more people are valuing the credential less than the knowledge and the learning outcomes,” he says.

    Short courses

    In addition to formal education, technology has made a host of shorter study options available anywhere in the world through a wider range of providers — including micro credentials and massive open online courses (MOOCs). Andrew Norton, higher education program director at the Grattan Institute, says in the older age groups, it is more common to engage in short courses or training that do not lead to credentials. “This is as we would expect from busy people who need to keep up-to-date and plug gaps in their knowledge or skills, but don’t have time to complete another qualification.”

    Wailes says the quality of MOOCs vary. “Some are pretty ordinary and are only completed by around four or five per cent of people who start them.”

    Sacks says an explosion of short courses and private providers means that there is a much wider array of courses and offerings. “The upside is you are much more likely to find a course that is going to help you fill a gap or meet a need. These offerings also provide more opportunities to digitally access the best content and providers from anywhere in the world. The corollary is that it can be harder to find the right course. It’s important to be crystal-clear about the learning you are trying to get and how you learn best.”

    For those faced with too much choice, Kastelle says, “Brand is still very important in education. It’s a really easy filter.” He believes people still show up to lectures even though they have free access to MOOCs and other courses because “something is happening in the room”. “They learn from their peers and skilled facilitators,” he says. “We are also trying to increase experiential learning with case studies of actual problems at actual businesses. I don’t think anyone has figured out the best business model for digital delivery of education yet.”

    5 ways education is changing

    1. Free introduction to AI Finland has embarked on an ambitious challenge to teach the basics of AI to one per cent of its population (55,000 people) via an online course specifically designed for non-technology experts with no programming experience. The free Elements of AI course is provided by technology firm Reaktor and the University of Helsinki. Companies have also been challenged to train their staff in AI. Popular with Finns, the course is also seeing strong global demand. More information at elementsofai.com
    2. Free TAFE courses Students of all ages have been signing up for free courses in in-demand skills offered by TAFE Victoria, thanks to $172m in funding from the Victorian state government. The courses cover everything from accounting and automotive to horticulture, construction and nursing.
    3. Virtual reality Australian start-up Equal Reality is using virtual reality training to help people build empathy and human capital in order to combat the likes of workplace bullying, sexual harassment and racial or unconscious bias. After doing its “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” program, most participants understand what it is like to experience discrimination first-hand.
    4. The evolving MOOC Open edX, one of the world’s leading massive open online course (MOOC) platforms, is set to house its courses on Blockstore. This next-generation content storage system will break up courses into smaller, discrete pieces of learning content. Learners will be able to search the edX platform for specific videos and texts (each of which will be meta-tagged in a detailed manner), instead of having to progress through an entire course to find what they’re looking for.
    5. Online platforms About 100,000 polytechnic diploma students and adult learners in Singapore are using an online platform called PolyMall, which allows students from the nation’s five polytechnics to access learning resources across multiple disciplines for free. First launched in 2016, PolyMall lets students shop around and enrol in some 1400 modules offered by the various institutions. It also allows access to course materials uploaded by lecturers at different schools.

    Director Diaries

    Joseph Healy MAICD, co-founder Judo Bank

    Course Master of Science (MSc) in Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health — Kings College London.

    When/where 2018–2020 online.

    The experience “It’s opened a window of my mind about something I was never aware of. Kings College London has a world-class reputation in this field and has developed a rigorous and well structured program. With technology it is so easy to log on and watch lectures at any time. Doing the course has changed my perceptions in business and dealings with staff. Based on my readings, one in four employees in any company will be dealing with a mental health challenge. An effective leader can read the signs and realise there might be a problem that at least warrants a friendly conversation on how the individual is feeling and how the company can help. It also helps identify stresses in the workplace.”

    Tim Trumper MAICD, chair NRMA

    Course Making Corporate Boards More Effective — Harvard Business School (HBS).

    When/where Late 2018. Four-day program. Lived on campus at Harvard in Boston.

    The experience “My notes of the course still resonate with me. The pre-course reading was 14 well-written case studies that followed the renowned case study process of HBS and ran into hundreds of pages. It is a labour of love as it is a privilege to be able to study these incredible companies. The case studies included companies such as Uber, Nike and Alibaba, and focused on complex governance issues such as shareholding matters, multifaceted operating models and regulatory environments, rising shareholder activism and changing customer and societal expectations.”

    Indigenous Governance

    An AICD Company Directors Course for Indigenous business leaders took place in Perth in May. Julie-Ann Lambourne was one of 17 scholarship recipients who took part. By Raphael Dixon


    Julie-Ann Lambourne grew up poor, dropped out of high school and suffered from addiction from age 17 — but you would never guess if you met her. Lambourne now sits on nine committees, boards and groups and is CEO of the expanding enVizion Group, a 100 per cent Indigenous-owned national training provider, based in Queensland. She is one of 17 people who received a scholarship to the Indigenous business leaders’ Company Directors Course (CDC).

    “enVizion Group’s future aspirations include designing and developing the first Indigenous-led global innovation centre,” says Lambourne.

    “A project of this size requires high-level governance and structure. Successfully completing this training will facilitate this.”

    Perpetual hosted the face-to-face part of the CDC in their Perth offices. The participants were from a range of fields, including ASX 100 organisations, private businesses, the public sector, NFPs, SMEs and Native Title. Lambourne says their breadth of experience and diversity was an unexpected highlight of the course. “Being in the room with so many other Indigenous leaders, I’m learning and gleaning, but I’m also imparting.”

    When she took the role of CEO, enVizion faced several challenges. While the founders were experienced in their fields, they had little experience running a business. “We had no business foundation skills so we just had really good intent,” she says. “We had really good knowledge, we had really good expertise, but running a business is different.”

    When a partner departed enVizion Group with little notice and left projects unfinished, staff had to be laid off and executives had to “get back on the tools”. “We’d had programs set up for the next nine months, says Lambourne. “When one of our partners decided to pull out at the last minute, we had no succession plan.”

    Lambourne says before she was elevated to CEO, enVizion Group struggled with its revenue model. She realised they needed to change their thinking. “People think because you’re not-for-profit that you’re a charity and will do lots of stuff for free,” she says. “Actually, we need to run like a business, not like a charity.”

    These were experiences Lambourne used as an opportunity to learn and that she now uses to teach. An integral part of her transition from general manager to CEO was taking on a personal corporate mentor. “That was really difficult for someone like me, an Indigenous person, being mentored by a non-Indigenous corporate person,” she says. “It’s because they talk about value proposition, not just for the business but for yourself. What is my worth in the business? What is my dollar value? Because I grew up impoverished, and had a really hard lifestyle before I overcame all of those things, having to talk about my own value proposition was really difficult. I had to push through that because I knew what we were doing in the business was really important.”

    Discussing the current focus on organisational culture in the wake of the banking Royal Commission and the declining public trust in institutions, Lambourne says she applies the cultural values instilled in her as a Torres Strait Islander woman to the organisations she works with.

    “It’s a community mindset,” she says. “I can only speak for myself, but I’m always thinking about how what I do is going to be for the betterment of the community… and how we amalgamate that into business.”

    Asked how she makes sure she has a director’s mindset, Lambourne replies, “I’m not there for me as a person, I’m not there for my business, I’m there for a bigger output. This course really cemented that.”

    Scholarships to the Indigenous business leaders’ CDC were funded by the Norman H Johns Trust and EB Myer Charity Fund (managed by Perpetual).

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