Financial TimesPost-pandemic career comeback courses draw financial backing

May 9, 20210
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Executives rarely expect sympathy — the corporate world thrives on competition, not charity. But Covid-19 prompted business schools and governments to consider ways of supporting executives who found themselves furloughed, laid off or needing to retrain.

“When the pandemic landed, we all found ourselves with a lot more time on our hands,” says William Vandyk, who has worked in the City of London for more than 20 years, in mergers and acquisitions and raising capital for small-cap companies.

His last job was head of strategy and corporate finance at Schroders Personal Wealth, a joint venture with Lloyds Bank with 30,000 clients and £13bn under management. Most referrals came via Lloyds, so he was not surprised when his team was made redundant three months after the March 2020 lockdown closed branches.

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Having taken an MBA at Imperial College Business School in London two years earlier, Vandyk saw an opportunity to fill gaps in his leadership skills. Imperial’s online executive education course, Leadership in a Technology Driven World, caught his eye. While his alma mater usually offers a 25 per cent discount for alumni, during the pandemic it waived tuition fees on virtual programmes for graduates who had been laid off or furloughed — a gesture that saved him several thousand pounds for four weeks of study.

About 85 alumni took advantage of the offer, which equates to a total of £198,000 in fees waived, says Mike Davis, director of open programmes. Other discounts have included 50 per cent off to employees of UK charities.

“I was able to get my cake and eat it,” says Vandyk, who is now a managing director at financial services advisory firm Addere Capital and is considering further courses in sustainable finance. “The short course not only answered the ‘how do you lead?’ question but taught me a lot more about listening and empathising with people, rather than trying to jump in and fix their problems or correct them.”

In some other countries, notably France and Norway, financial support came from governments, rather than business schools. HEC Paris, for example, was able to join France’s national employment fund training initiative (FNE) for furloughed staff, which allowed companies to claim full training costs up to €6,000 per worker. This enabled HEC to enrol more than 500 participants on 20 different courses.

French executives were able to use the CPF (compte personnel de formation) personal training account to finance their executive education. Aimed at encouraging continuing professional development, the CPF already provided funding to the tune of €500 a year, capped at €5,000. Yannick Joe, who leads business development at aerosol paint maker Technima in Tours, used his CPF for a marketing and sales course at Neoma Business School. “Having access to my personal training account meant I could quickly acquire the tools I needed to develop my business,” he says.

Blandine Dogimont, senior sales manager at Rolls-Royce’s nuclear business in France, took an information systems and digital management course at Grenoble Ecole de Management, using the Fongecif scheme. Under this funding system for professionals (since replaced by one called Transitions Pro), employers paid 0.2 per cent of gross payroll into the fund. Employees over 40 were among target beneficiaries.

“I was a 46-year-old mother of three when I took the course,” says Dogimont. The Fongecif paid 60 per cent of the fees, with her employer and Dogimont paying the rest. “I wouldn’t have been able to finance the programme on my own. The application is not that easy, but that makes it a good test of the candidate’s determination and motivation.”

Similarly, in Norway, there is a tradition of three-way collaboration between the state, employers and employees. When the pandemic struck, the Norwegian government set aside €18.5m for educational institutions to provide short and flexible executive education courses on relevant topics.

“Thanks to these funds, the institutions were able to redesign and reorganise their offerings and provide them free of charge for those hit by the crisis,” says David Sagen, director of executive programmes at BI Norwegian Business School. BI offered 2,000 places on courses ranging from digital transformation and sustainable business practices to strategy and project management.

As economies seek to rebound after the pandemic, such collaborative approaches to funding may prove increasingly appealing to governments elsewhere.

How to make a case for company cash

Stéphane Dubreuille, director of executive education at Neoma Business School in France, offers tips for convincing your employer to fund a programme:

  • Check out the background and personality of the decision maker — a little psychology may suggest how to approach them most effectively

  • Enlist the support of an internal sponsor who is positive about your project and has experience and influence

  • Show your employer what it stands to gain — its return on investment

  • Allay your employer’s fears by making a schedule of tasks to be done in your absence

  • Demonstrate how the course fits with the company’s strategy

  • Convince your employer of the quality of the course and its participants

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