You can teach an old manager new tricks

An MBA may propel you into management, but the key to staying there lies in constantly updating your knowledge through specialist courses.
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The Independent Online

Today's managers face a world of ever growing complexity. New technologies and systems, spreading globalisation, and corporate restructuring mean that managers have to cope with continuous change. With delayering they have to accept a greater span of responsibility, not only for their specialist function, but also for the overall strategic view of general management.

Today's managers face a world of ever growing complexity. New technologies and systems, spreading globalisation, and corporate restructuring mean that managers have to cope with continuous change. With delayering they have to accept a greater span of responsibility, not only for their specialist function, but also for the overall strategic view of general management.

It is hardly surprising that managers regularly have to acquire new knowledge and skills to keep abreast of the demands made on them. The need for lifelong learning has become a reality for them.

A minority of managers join their organisations through a formal graduate management training scheme. They undertake an extended programme of management education and development. Many take a part-time MBA or a related postgraduate qualification in their thirties, usually with the encouragement and support of their employers.

But for most managers, training and development tends to be more haphazard. Many enter specialist functions directly and only later move into management roles. Their management training tends to be piecemeal, often provided by external organisations in major cities or in-house.

Many organisations provide a comprehensive range of such short courses. Some are commercial firms, like Fielden-Cegos, which runs courses on more than 100 different topics such as interviewing skills, time management, delegation, report writing, finance for non-financial managers, and managing change (Tel 0161 445 2426 or www.fielden-cegos.co.uk). Others are charities, like the Industrial Society which has 10,000 member organisations. The society will run over 150 courses this year for all levels of management from first-line supervisors to board directors (Tel. 020-7262 2401 or www.insoc.co.uk).

Professional institutions similarly run short courses dealing with particular aspects of their specialism. For example, this year the Institute of Personnel and Development is running more than 400 training events in personnel, reward management, training and development, and employment law (Tel 020 8263 3434 or www.ipd.co.uk/training).

Many short courses aim to update the knowledge and skills of experienced managers. For instance, several business schools, best known for offering masters degrees in business administration, offer short courses and "master-classes" to keep their MBA graduates and other executives up to date with the latest developments in general management. With the current and accelerating pace of change, knowledge redundancy is a real problem in almost every sphere, and lifelong learning is now essential if one is to keep abreast of one's specialism.

Obviously a structured programme of learning is the best way to acquire a sound understanding of management. A first degree in a business-related subject is clearly a useful introduction, but to get the level of knowledge and understanding needed at general management level, a programme of formal study after a few years' experience is highly desirable. An MBA is perhaps the most prestigious of all such programmes.

However, not all MBAs are equal. As increasing numbers of business schools have jumped on the highly lucrative bandwagon of offering this qualification - almost 120 in the UK - standards have become very variable. Fortunately, most of the best are regularly, independently inspected and accredited by the Association of MBAs. This accreditation gives would-be students and employers an assurance of quality.

A reputable MBA is increasingly seen as a necessary qualification for those aspiring to general management. However, one cannot normally enter an MBA course without a first degree and several years in a management role. This might appear to penalise those who have entered management through non-traditional routes, like non-graduates.

However, there are other qualifications, notably the Diploma in Management Studies (DMS), which provide a sound broad-based level of education for experienced managers. Moreover, a growing number of reputable business schools, including Kingston and The Open University Business School, have designed their DMS so that it is now the first part of their MBA. This means that a non-graduate can take a DMS. This qualifies them to enter an MBA course.

John Eldred, the course director of the DMS at Kingston Business School, explains: "The programme gives access to those who have not gone down the traditional route of university, five or 10 years work experience and then an MBA. Because they're not the academic beast that we traditionally see on an MBA, they need a different form of introduction to the return to learning. It's all very well to talk of lifelong learning, but if you've never been brought through an extended period of advanced study you don't know what you are letting yourself in for."

There is also a stand-alone Certificate in Management which represents part one of the DMS. This break-up of an MBA into two or three self-contained stages helps managers who must take these higher qualifications part-time or by distance learning while carrying out full-time and often high pressure jobs.

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