Suppose you are the owner of a small business with only a few employees. One of your toughest challenges is to find good people to work for you. Equally important is the challenge of developing and keeping good people.

Now imagine you are the CEO of a large, well-established company with many thousands of employees working around the world. What are your toughest human resource challenges? They are essentially the same, but because of the size and scope of your organisation, they are much greater and more complex.

Big companies, particularly publicly traded, global companies, use corporate education as a way to meet these human resource challenges.

Simply put, corporate education consists of “company-funded education programmes that advance the professional and personal development of employees”.

Corporate education and long-term success

The ultimate goal of corporate education is to help a company to achieve and sustain its success. Sometimes, the term “corporate training” is used interchangeably with “corporate education”.

Although these two activities may sometimes overlap, the general understanding in business is that they differ in content and objectives.

Corporate training programmes develop specific skills and knowledge (for example, learning a new version of a software programming language or becoming proficient in “six sigma” methods of operation).

Corporate education programmes tend to be broader in scope (for example, learning all about a company’s new strategy and what you and your team can do to help implement this strategy).

“Executive education” is another term sometimes used interchangeably with “corporate education”. But there is somewhat of an overlap in the contents and objectives between the two terms.

For example, in Singapore, the Center for Executive Education provides key skills for effective management. But executive education can also encompass degree-granting programmes from universities, such as the Executive Master of Business Administration.

There are different ways to implement corporate education programmes. Companies can support an employee’s study in a university-based Executive MBA programme. They can also send them on short (one-week) non-degree courses on selected topics such as leadership, strategic marketing, and finance run by universities or private, non-academic organisations.

A common practice is for companies to use a combination of outside consultants and their own staff in their corporate education programmes.

Corporate education tends to focus on three key areas:

Leadership and teamwork

This is a primary focus of corporate education. Examples of the types of activities used to develop leadership and teamwork are case studies, role-playing and presentations by a company’s senior leaders.

Sometimes, activities are outside the boundaries of the workplace such as working with a Formula One race team to help improve teamwork.

At the more senior level, leadership development and teamwork could also involve presentations by outstanding leaders in fields outside business (for example, successful managers of major sports teams or retired military senior officers).

Business acumen

This includes understanding the strategic and financial challenges of the company and how individuals and their teams contribute to the company’s success.

Case studies and business simulation exercises are often used to supplement interactive lectures given by a subject-matter expert. This is the area I work in. Let me use this topic to illustrate another example of the difference between corporate training and corporate education.

When I cover the topic of finance, it is not with the intent of training programme participants to be chartered accountants. My main objective is to educate non-financial managers and staff about the basic financial concepts and tools of analysis to help them to understand the financial challenges of their company and how they and their colleagues can help the company to achieve their financial goals.

Professional and personal development

A wide variety of topics fall into this category such as creative thinking, effective listening, working with others in teams, understanding one’s personal work style, communication and presentation skills and the management of one’s career path.

For any company in Singapore that is interested in starting its own corporate education programme, a helpful guide on what to consider can be found at www.marketinggenerics.com/images/uploads/How_to_buy_Executive_Education.pdf.

Over the past three decades, I have observed first-hand many of the new or evolving challenges that large corporations face because of changing competition, technology, customer demands and government policies.

Based on my experiences, I know that companies continue to count on corporate education programmes as a way to ensure that their people are consistently up to the task of meeting these new challenges.