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Interview with Christian Olivier Graf

Management Training - More Hype than Substance?

The International Management Institute at the ZHAW School of Management and Law offers continuing education programs in Business Administration. Christian Olivier Graf is the Head of the MAS in Business Administration program.

Christian Graf, is it hard to see the wood for the trees in continuing education?

The need for continuing education is indeed steadily increasing, and it is becoming more and more difficult to keep track. It is a trend which reflects our need to develop as a knowledge society. A report by the Federal Statistical Office shows that around 63% of the Swiss population attended some form of continuing education in 2016. At 24%, business was the most popular continuing education subject.

Is there cut-throat competition in management training?

Whether university, university of applied sciences, vocational college, or private provider, all have the right to offer knowledge in a free market economy and to contribute to the development of our society. But if elitism and dubious offers instead of down-to-earthness and quality are the drivers of management programs, then, in my opinion, we are building on sand for the future of our next generation.

What do you mean by that?

Let's look at the hype surrounding MBA programs: For a long time, these were only accessible to certain people, and the diploma symbolized the ultimate intelligent manager. However, a management program is only valuable and of practical use if the participant can successfully apply his or her acquired knowledge on the job the next day, be it as an independent entrepreneur or as a manager in a company. A program’s price and certain admission criteria are not necessarily the decisive factors in turning participants into responsible achievers.

How do you define quality in this context?

I think the most important determinant is the instructor. It is no longer enough for professors and lecturers to present their specialist knowledge. They need to be well-versed in modern teaching and learning techniques and take a genuine pleasure in supporting the participants as they learn and develop. However, professionalism on the part of the instructors and the institution is one thing. It is up to the participants themselves to commit and bring their curiosity, their will to learn, and their joy of knowledge to the table.

Can you understand the skepticism of companies that hesitate to send their employees to management programs?

Yes and no. I understand small organizations that have limited resources. An employee's increase in competence and knowledge is hardly ever reflected in a company's annual figures. According to my observations, intellectual capital is hardly ever recorded, and the actual loss of expertise in the event of employee fluctuation is rarely calculated.

Why should companies send an employee to a continuing education program?

For example, if an employee acquires the ability to analyze a problem thoroughly and develop workable solutions, his or her employer will benefit. However, this is only possible with a professional educational partner able to promote the different skills required.

Another key question is what the company does, specifically, once an employee has received his or her diploma: Will it merely congratulate the employee, or will it make a real effort to make use of his or her newly acquired competence?

How do you see the future for continuing education management training?

In the future, there will be new types of educational models in which technology will also play an important role. First signs are visible at international edutech fairs. Some corporations are already setting up internal training centers at a remarkably high level. New forms of cooperation between organizations and educational institutions are therefore needed to master future challenges together, also in an international environment.

Continuing education management training at the ZHAW