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Learning Business Readiness

Rotman’s ‘Business Readiness Certificate’ for young professionals and graduates with non-business degrees: Stephanie Hodnett, Executive Director of Rotman Executive Programs in conversation


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Hailed by UNESCO as a key to global prosperity, ‘lifelong learning’ has become a watchword for educators envisioning the development of a future workforce fit to address the many challenges faced by the world. Yet examples of lifelong learning provision in practice are rare in a business context.

The Rotman Business Readiness Certificate, designed to prepare non-business graduates for the workforce, is a welcome exception. Launched this spring, the certificate is earned by completing three six-week courses offered by the Executive Education team at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Two required foundation courses, MBA Essentials (online) and Financial Acumen (online), are matched with an elective such as Business Analytics, Cybersecurity, Design Thinking, Negotiations, Women in Leadership, Healthcare Leadership, etc.—all delivered online except for Negotiations which is offered live in-person.

University graduates typically take on creative, science-based, or operational jobs in business with minimal understanding of the how the commercial world really works, and too many fall into management roles in business with zero preparation or training.

To avoid this, one solution would be for undergraduates to add business modules to their syllabuses—diluting their core studies. Another, for those fully committed to a managerial career, is to do a full post-graduate business degree—demanding in both cost and time. The Certificate offers a new, and for many a better way, one that acknowledges how the gap from graduation to first job and first management role is one ripe for ‘lifelong learning’ intervention.

“I think you can have the best of both worlds—the traditional broad-based liberal arts education, that teaches skills you will need as a human being in this world, not just as a member of the workforce,” says Stephanie Hodnett, Executive Director of Rotman Executive Programs. “That's what the idea of the Certificate was—Please continue to study philosophy, we need you to study biology or political science, but we also need you to have these skills that are common to almost every professional workplace that you'll end up in.”

We focus much more on the tangible skills.....accounting, strategy, marketing, fundamental skills valued by employers

The Certificate offers the chance for graduates and young first-time professionals to build an authoritative business-savvy foundation at the beginning of their careers. As opposed to the outdated model: “You’ve finished your undergrad—come back to us, in 10 or 15 years, when you're ready for executive education.” A model Hodnett asserts “no longer makes much sense.”


Learn more about the ‘Rotman Business Readiness Certificate’

Who is eligible?  How does it work?  What kind of certificate?  When are the programs run?


The idea for the Certificate was borne out of a conversation Hodnett had with the School’s new Dean, Susan Christoffersen and Vice-Dean Joe Milner, who had picked up on an expression of need for business content from across the University to bolster the prospects of non-business graduates.

 “There's a real push now, which maybe ties to the UNESCO report, for universities to make sure they're graduating, or finishing, people with relevant skills for the job market,” explains Hodnett. “So, if you're completing your degree in say mechanical engineering or computer science or art history, there's a pathway for you to also get the basic skills you’ll need in business—reading a balance sheet, the basics of negotiations, or just general managerial life and business skills.” With the third, elective, course also allowing the learner, “to align the Certificate more directly to their own personal career goals.”

You might not manage people, but you certainly are interested in having your voice heard, and in maximizing your influence

Attaining a Rotman certificate not only prepares people for employment but makes them appear more employable in a competitive job market—"affirming that this person has not only a broad educational base but also has some workplace management skills, and crucially that they have a commitment to learning in the first place.”

While not every graduate aspires to management, having a sound grasp of the principles of business can provide valuable rigor to the efforts of those in creative, scientific or operational roles—not to mention that even the most unsuspecting can find they take to management and leadership in time. What’s more “you might not manage people, but you certainly are interested in having your voice heard, and in maximizing your influence in the organization.” That was part of the thinking of the Certificate designers—ensuring people in very large companies could make their voices heard and influence felt beyond the narrow sphere of their day-to-day jobs.

While there is an Organizational Leadership elective, and leadership elements to other electives, the Certificate does not focus on leadership. As Hodnett explains “We focus much more on the tangible skills—we're talking about new entrants to the workforce—so accounting, strategy, marketing, fundamental skills valued by employers.”

Hodnett describes the Certificate as being part of a “learning continuum……We're not teaching ‘negotiations’ at the same level as the negotiations program run for senior executives, because obviously their needs, approach and experience are different. When you're maybe 40-50 years old and looking for executive education as a change pathway—this can happen almost any at any time in your in your career.” With the Certificate Rotman can truly speak of lifelong learning—offering exemplary support at the beginning of a career, at mid-career, at executive level and then at board director level.

At the executive level programs tend to be paid for by the employer. Hodnett anticipates the Certificates will largely be paid for by individuals—albeit in some cases (as in Canada) with government sponsorship. However, the Certificate is relatively inexpensive. It is also comparatively short, just-in-time, flexible and undemanding of time. In fact, it has all the characteristics educators tend to envisage for ‘lifelong learning’ interventions.

The program is run as small private online classes of about 30 participants at a time, with smaller groups set to work on assignments and projects together for the six weeks of the program. So, you get a relationship with these people, and “once you're finished, you're in the Rotman family. You will be invited to events and speaker series, and encouraged to take advantage of the many activities and programs run by the School.”

Hodnett is very confident “that there's definitely an audience for this. It’s a discrete audience. It's certainly different than our classroom-based executives. These learners are at the start of their professional development journey and this Certificate is designed to give them the best possible support as they enter the world of work.” In a world faced with enormous challenges, aligned with the themes of the UNESCO report, the Rotman Business Readiness Certificate is an initiative ripe for our times.

Rotman School of Management is Canada’s leading business school and has Canada’s largest group of management faculty. It is home to some of the most innovative research institutes in the world

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