Take a course and improve your skills — it may change your life

The writer is an investor in technology start-ups at Samos Investments

I have just completed a 10-week mini-MBA and it was the best career decision I have made.

Like many who graduate and decide they will work for a period and then return to academia, in reality it is often hard to give up a well-paid job.

I enjoyed my days at University College London, but student life, existing on a basic allowance, was not something I wanted to revisit. Long story short, I put off going into a full-time postgraduate course for many years.

But recently I came across the London School of Economics’ mini-MBA course. A mini-MBA? I couldn’t see how that could be valuable. And online? I thought the whole point of an MBA was to have the opportunity to meet with various professionals, learn about their industries and network.

So I went into the programme feeling a bit sceptical. I was quickly proved wrong.

It started with a Zoom call introducing me to my course mates. I was impressed. They came from all over the world — Romania, Singapore, the US, India. They were all busy professionals from sectors including healthcare, aerospace, financial services, with a range of commitments outside of work. It made me think, perhaps this is possible after all. With three small children, a job and several board seats, I had worried I would not find the time.

Their reasons for joining the course varied: hope of a promotion, a pay rise or just wanting to learn something new.

Over the duration of the mini-MBA, we covered topics such as demand and supply, pricing, inflation — really going back to basics. It was great to have a refresher on some of the subjects I learnt at university, but in the process of revisiting them, I learnt a lot of new things, too. That is because this time around I was able to apply my knowledge in a more practical sense because of my lived experiences.

The course prompted me to think about how privileged I am. It wasn’t cheap, £3,200 — out of reach of many. As are full-time MBAs, at £80,000-plus on average, just for fees. So how can organisations be more supportive of employees who want to upskill?

First, employers need to better communicate what training is on offer. Most employees never check the benefits portals at work. I had a look at some of the employee perks at a large tech company. It offered free or discounted educational packages from online learning platforms and had £1,000 stipends available towards any course.

I was expecting more. Many large companies offer a lot of job-centric training days. What I would love to see is more of them offering stipends in the £1,000 to £3,000 range, where employees can learn anything they want. If smaller businesses such as Learnerbly, a workplace learning company, can offer a £1,000 allowance, then the bigger companies should at least be able to match this.

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The Department for Education has a great range of options. I worked with some of the largest tech companies, including Google, to put together the DfE’s Skills Toolkit of free short courses. Subjects offered include maths, computing and digital design and marketing, designed for those wishing to upskill and retrain. I highly recommend people check it out- taking any short course will boost your productivity in the long run.

If you are open to something a bit more radical, Seth Godin, the US blogger and entrepreneur, has designed an altMBA, a 31-day online leadership workshop. This costs $4,450 and is very project-based.

Like my fellow classmates, I took the mini-MBA to exchange ideas, refresh my knowledge and learn new skills to do my job even better. Within a few weeks I already had fresh ideas and felt like I had been given a much deeper lens with which to operate. I wish I had done it sooner. 

Whichever avenue you choose to further your education, you must be willing to make sacrifices to carve out time from your busy schedule, but it is worth it. I’m glad I did.

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