It’s well-recognised that getting a job and climbing a lifelong corporate ladder is a lifestyle of the past. With many millennials working in careers and even industries that didn’t exist a decade ago, and Gen Z employees entering the workplace to find rapidly evolving environments, it’s clear that flexibility is key and that the way we prepare for work needs to keep up. In fact, it’s not just about preparation: in an age in which learning and unlearning is a constant, ongoing process, entrepreneurs and businesspeople hoping to keep ahead of the curve need to keep acquiring knowledge throughout their careers.
Does that mean getting a formal qualification and upskilling from there? Sometimes, but the order in which professionals build their respective skill stacks is more varied than ever: obtaining a business degree then adding some on-the-job experience and a couple of short courses may be as useful as starting out with industry-relevant training in a creative or practical skill and then getting that MBA later in life, when it’s time to turn a side hustle into a thriving startup.
It’s little wonder that personal development and education are becoming increasingly important: as the global business landscape changes and accelerates, there’s a need to adapt to new practices and innovate continuously — which is all a little easier and more efficient with the knowledge to back up one’s decisions. For young employees, additional skills can provide the edge in a tough job market where all CVs might appear quite similar to prospective employers. For aspirant entrepreneurs, learning the basics of business can allow their fledgling companies to avoid the pitfalls that their predecessors faced; they can learn from others’ mistakes rather than waiting to learn from their own.
But it’s not just those who are new to the world of business who recognise the importance of upskilling: for C-level executives looking to keep their companies competitive, it’s becoming ever more important to understand the trends shaping particular industries and the ideologies changing the world at large. For example, a failure to fully grasp the importance of social alignment has been been blamed at least in part for the collapse of many brands, most recently the formerly ubiquitous fast-fashion chain Forever 21.
Incubators and accelerators around the globe provide intensive learning for founders, and provide the benefit of a highly focused environment: most participants are at a similar stage in their business journey, and many programmes are focused on a specific industry or outcome that the individual or group hopes to gain. MBAs are adapting accordingly, and seeking to replicate the obvious advantage offered by this accelerated mode of knowledge acquisition: many universities around the globally and locally offer specific options for the entrepreneur’s education needs and often-abbreviated schedule. UCT’s Graduate School of Business now offers qualifications with a specific focus on The Business of Africa and The Business of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, while UKZN’s GSB offers a future-looking diploma in leadership; the Johannesburg School of Business offers focus areas that aim to stimulate the growth of the SMME ecosystem in South Africa, as the fourth industrial revolution proves to be a highly relevant factor in business planning.
Organisations such as Startup Grind, HeavyChef, and Future Females have long offered learning for entrepreneurs in various forms, and the latter has recently taken the step of extending this experience into something slightly more formal. “The future of education is definitely digital, not restricted to a certain time frame and more customised than ever,” says Cordula Pfluegl, founding team member of Future Females. “We think that you should never stop learning and challenging yourself,” she explains. For this reason, the content offered at Future Females workshops provides a balance of inspiration and networking with practical, hands-on skills training.
Two recently-launched initiatives hope to extend this success: a membership portal aims to provide a sustained connection and accountability in goal-setting for the women who join online, while the Future Females Business School allows for the acquisition of essential skills in content based on three modules — “Build”, “Sell” and “Set up for scale” — and the programme aims to support female founders’ success on personal and business levels. It’s had promising results so far: 132 graduates from the dedicated, three-month online incubator programme and another 75 from 12 countries currently enrolled.
Some would argue that it’s not just that business learning can take a more casual, continuous form, but that it must: very few have the time to be permanently enrolled in formal education, least of all those concerned with running businesses, but we all need to be eternal students. The result is an explosion in media relating to the world of business, as podcasts about the basics and entrepreneurship and economics enjoy widespread popularity, and the “self-help” aisle of bookstores are undergoing a subtle rebrand to focus less on personal matters and more on professional skills.
On Netflix, Inside Bill’s Brain provides insights into the mind of the Microsoft founder, while HBO attracted huge audiences with its rise-and-fall tale of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, in The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley. Sure, a lot of this is about entertainment as much as education, but there are lessons to be learned from the feelgood stories and cautionary tales alike. In a world of unprecedented change and attendant opportunities, the education options are abundant and intriguing for those who know where to look.