Students at UOWD’s graduation ceremony. A changing labour market makes it necessary for students to develop multidisciplinary skills Image Credit: Supplied

The need for continuing professional development is high up on the agenda of executives working in the Gulf. Employers are also increasingly encouraging candidates to pursue degrees in business studies, which can not only help them develop soft skills but also aid in getting a better understanding of the operational environment.

“The labour market is changing, not just in the UAE but globally, and the demand for executive education is strong and growing. There is also a growing need for employees and business leaders who have a multidisciplinary skill set. Any executive aspiring to reach the top of their profession needs to demonstrate competency in a range of generic business skills,” says Peter Hawke, Director Marketing and Student Recruitment, University of Wollongong Dubai (UOWD).

He explains that the emerging trend is such that it is no longer enough for an engineer, for example, to simply be a skilled technician. He must be an effective project leader, negotiator, budget manager and quality controller. “UOWD’s business-related programmes are designed to address this trend, to enable technical and executive level professionals to develop business skills and contribute more effectively to the success of their organisation and also for their own professional development,” he adds.

Competition is stronger than ever in the business world, with professionals being forced to upgrade their skills to adapt and grow in their careers, which has led to a need for executive programmes in the market.

Yashavanth Gowda, Manager — Admissions, IMT University, Dubai, says: “Professionals across industries in the UAE have welcomed these programmes and look at them as an investment for moving ahead in their careers.”

Manchester Business School enrols more than 250 students every year for its global part-time three-year Master of Business Administration (MBA) for working professionals. Randa Bessiso, Director Middle East, Manchester Business School, tells GN Focus: “The presence of highly qualified professionals in Dubai is driving demand for executive programmes. Such courses can equip working professionals with all the necessary tools to step up their careers and also become entrepreneurs.”

Customised modules

INSEAD, one of the largest executive education providers in the world, runs programmes in business studies for professionals at its Abu Dhabi campus to develop management talent that is already in the workplace. “We have noted a demand for executive education in this region for leadership and general management,” says Bachar Tabbara, Senior Director, Executive Education, INSEAD. “Our customised programmes are aligned to the demand of our local clients and their industries. Such programmes are tailor-made to suit the requirements of clients.”

Apart from core courses, most executive MBA (EMBA) programmes in the UAE offer a range of modules that corresponds with the needs of the region and also allows students to tailor a degree that meets their professional requirements.

Manchester Business School, for instance, localises its programmes and introduces new modules every year in order to help students develop an understanding of the regional market trends. “We are going to launch a module called Doing Business in the GCC soon to help potential entrepreneurs prepare themselves for the business world in the Gulf. We also regularly expose them to case studies for better understanding of the operational challenges of regional businesses,” says Bessiso.

Added flexibility

A good EMBA programme also offers a lot of flexibility to students. As they are designed for busy professionals, most business schools in the UAE conduct classes during weekends and incorporate alternative modes of teaching, including online classes, e-tutorials and video conferences, for instance, along with classroom-based teaching so that students are not always required to attend classes on campus. At Manchester Business School, students for its executive programme are required to attend mandatory learning sessions for just one week in every six months. They can access study materials online, virtually interact with tutors and can also take online tests.

Digital MBA

The popularity of entirely online MBA programmes in the UAE is also increasing as students juggle work and other responsibilities. “The demanding schedules of working professionals are no longer a barrier to enhancing qualifications,” says Anouk Tenten, Partnership Manager, Glion Institute of Higher Education, which offers online MBAs for working professionals. “Students learn in an online environment that has been specifically designed to fit around the demanding schedule of hospitality professionals. Weekly debates and discussions take place in an asynchronous manner so that our multinational cohort can access the class when their schedule is free. In addition to highly trained faculty, we use webinars and a team of support staff to assist each class from enrolment through to graduation,” Tenten says.

Being a multicultural society with students from almost every part of the world, the UAE offers students an excellent networking opportunity with their counterparts from other countries. Such interactions not only broaden students’ outlook but also help them effectively deal with people from diverse backgrounds — skills that subsequently help them face more practical challenges at the workplace. Besides, the UAE’s strategic location makes it a convenient option for students who stay within the four- to five-hour flight radius of South Asia and the Middle East, giving them the opportunity to opt for executive degrees without travelling too far from home.

“If a student evaluates the cost involved in leaving his job and travelling to another country only for education, it will cost him more; that’s why earning while you study for a business degree makes a lot of sense,” says Gowda.