Industry-specific know-how more important than ever

February 19, 2016

An interview with Barbara Stöttinger

Amid growing economic uncertainty and rapid progress, lifelong learning is no longer a choice but a necessity. The demands we need to meet in terms of knowledge are constantly increasing, and this is especially true with regard to industry-specific, continuing professional education (CPE): A wealth of subject-matter expertise and work experience alone have long ceased to be enough. Specialist industry know-how, an excellent professional network and regular updates on the latest industry trends and developments are the things that really matter.

In the following interview, Prof. Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, explains how to keep up to date in your field and what to look out for in order to make the right CPE choice.

Prof. Stöttinger, why is industry-specific know-how so important today?

Prof. Stöttinger: As a result of the ever-increasing pace of digitalization and, above all, technological developments, the life cycles of products and whole industries have undergone fundamental changes. Often, even small changes in the overall environment are enough for entire business models to become obsolete after decades of successful use. Think, for instance, of the tourism industry, which has been turned upside down through online booking sites, price comparisons and customer reviews. You cannot cope with scenarios like this unless you keep all facets of your industry in mind so as to be able to both adapt quickly to rapid, and sometimes fundamental, change and embrace new things. The right CPE program will provide you with what you need most urgently in such a situation: an appreciation of the big picture in your industry, fresh momentum and new perspectives.

With so many programs available, how do you know which one is right for you? What is important?

Prof. Stöttinger: Without a doubt: industry know-how. However, this should be more than just a buzzword in a glitzy brochure. How close are the provider's ties with the industry? Does the collaboration cover only a few selected areas, or is there a genuine, long-term commitment to joining forces with the leading players in the industry? We, for instance, have set up a hand-picked advisory board for each of our certificate programs. The boards, which comprise the top representatives of the industry in question, regularly meet for working sessions. This approach ensures that we always know exactly where the industries are heading and what knowledge and skills experts need to have in order to be ready for all challenges that lie ahead.

What else should students pay attention to in this context?

Prof. Stöttinger: Focus groups are another great tool that helps providers of high-quality training ensure their programs reflect industry needs as accurately as possible. Depending on your intended focus, current students, graduates or industry experts can provide valuable input on the latest topics and trends in a given field. Inquire whether the training provider of your choice employs such methods in keeping programs up to date. Apart from making use of focus groups, we provide topics for final projects in collaboration with our industry partners. This is truly a win-win situation: Our partners benefit from our students' concepts, some of which are really outstanding, and our students get a chance not only to become deeply involved in real-life projects but also to develop their networks of contacts in all kinds of different directions.

You are raising an interesting point here. How important are industry contacts?

Prof. Stöttinger: Especially in a country like Austria, where industries tend to be comparatively small, having the right contacts is a tremendous asset.

What benefits can a CPE program bring in this context?

Prof. Stöttinger: A wide variety of benefits. And this is where the wheat separates from the chaff: Who teaches in the program? Experienced practitioners who know what really matters? Are there hands-on days in addition to regular classes, giving students the chance to visit industry leaders and exchange views and opinions with sector experts? What about specialist events during which industry representatives discuss the latest developments in their field? All of these are great opportunities for students to make invaluable industry contacts.

You have stressed the importance of practical training that is immediately transferable to the workplace? What about theory?

Prof. Stöttinger: What is important is the right mix — a perfect balance between theoretical input with a sound academic underpinning and a strong practical focus. In my opinion, our programs really stand out in this regard. Think, for instance, of the logistics sector or the insurance business. As internationally leading experts in their fields, Prof. Kummer and Prof. Mürmann also have unparalleled industry contacts; this is exactly what our students benefit from: The latest findings of Europe's biggest business university are presented to them through the prism of the specific needs and requirements of the industry in question.

Is there anything else to look out for when choosing a CPE program?

Prof. Stöttinger: Yes, the delivery format. In recent years, weekend courses have become increasingly popular. Fewer and fewer students are prepared to attend evening classes during the week because they simply cannot juggle them with their professional and family commitments anymore. Therefore, we have recently begun to offer all our certificate programs in the form of blocked modules on Friday afternoons and Saturdays. An additional benefit of this change is that it allows people from outside the Vienna area to study at the WU Executive Academy.

In case you want to learn more about the certificate programs at WU Executive Academy, come and visit us at our stand at the BeST in Vienna from March 3 - 6, 2016.

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