The year 2011 proved to be a mixed one for executive language training institutions, with some suffering losses from the adverse global economy and others gaining from it. While some executive language providers did experience a slight drop in enrolments last year, others believe that in times of economic trouble, it is precisely the training sector that can gain. David Hurford, Managing Director at Port Douglas English Language Centre in Australia, asserts, “A bigger number of executives invest in their language education in times of change and economic uncertainty that the past few years can be characterised as. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, [we experienced] an increase of about 10 per cent on executive enrolments in 2011.”
It would also appear that the executive training sector is picking up again. Eleri Maitland from French in Normandy in France, observes that their numbers last year were up on 2010, and that they expected 2012 to consolidate this upwards trend. She puts this down to the fact that those companies or individuals who had put off their training previously because of the economic crisis are now realising they need to invest in their futures to remain competitive. Hauke Tallon, Managing Director of The London School of English in the UK, agrees. “Perhaps the tougher economic climate made more people aware of the need to improve their skill-set to be more marketable,” he ventures, adding, “2011 was relatively flat for us, but we felt this was a good result in such a turbulent market.”
There is no doubt, however, that employee training has been one of the casualties of the dire economic climate of recent years. Keen to reduce spend, many companies have slashed their training budgets, and language courses overseas have been one of the many victims. Sanja Kevric, Marketing Coordinator at Accademia Lingue e Culture Europee (ALCE) in Italy, confirms this. “Due to the economic downturn, many companies have significantly reduced their training funds, and that is of course something we felt on our business Italian bookings for 2011.” As a consequence of the cost-cutting measures introduced by many companies, cheaper language training options are being sought. Pia Zammit, Director of Studies at Skylark School of English in Malta, mentions a trend towards the provision of in-house tuition and online tuition to reduce travel costs.
The key to success for the overseas language trainers is to devise programmes that fit with our leaner times. Broadly speaking, there are two distinct types of courses in the executive language learning sector: those that provide general language with some business classes as an add-on, and those that deliver a tailor-made programme to in-service professionals. The latter is either small group lessons, closed groups, one-to-one or a combination of these.
As business language providers work flexibly to create the perfect training programme for their executive clients, they can also design a more economical course if required. Both Tallon from The London School of English and Bob Burger from Malaca Instituto in Spain note a trend towards a combination of group and one-to-one classes. “In this way,” says Burger, “the client is gaining the social and communicative interaction of a group course with the specificity of a one-to-one programme and all at a cost which the HR Director appreciates.”
David Maguire, Director of International Marketing at Global Language Institute in the USA, goes on to say that while executives generally expect to pay more for a “high touch” programme like executive language, some are keen to keep costs down. “Combining customised one-to-one instruction with a group oral communications course often suits lower or middle management professionals or those on a more restricted budget. Managers, for example, who are completely or partly funding their own training often find this less expensive option attractive.”
The bill payer seems to have changed, with Tallon noting a “shift away from company sponsorship with more individuals paying their own way”. Ian Joiner from Altiplano Training in France echoes this trend. “Now companies seem to us to be retiring from paying for training,” he explains. “We see more and more executives paying for themselves in order to stay competitive in their job and in the job market in general. So executives are economising, and value for money and no-frills accommodation are more important.” This may also explain a trend towards shorter stays noted by Nathalie Harrap, Director of Accord Manchester/Active English Academy in the UK.
Despite the cost cutting, however, Maguire is keen to stress that executives still have very high requirements and expectations. “Professionals who participate in our executive English programme still want the same things they have always wanted material and instruction that is truly tailored to their needs rather than ‘cookie-cutter’ business English, and the care and attention of qualified, experienced instructors and staff,” he asserts. “They also want a learning experience that’s going to set them on a path of continuous learning, rather than just a short course that represents an end in itself.”
While economising is occurring at one end of the executive sector, specialisation in language tuition is another trend that has remained steadfast in recent years. Zammit notes an increase in demand for English for specific purposes such as aviation, banking and engineering, while Dorothée Lamy at Accent Français in France says their executive clients have been keen on “very intensive and specialised programmes of 30-to-40 lessons per week”.
The executive sector is a tough one in which to operate as, even in hard times, clients expect very high standards of provision. Carmen López at don Quijote/Enforex in Spain notes a trend towards higher accommodation standards and more premium-priced courses with a combination of mini group and one-to-one classes.
But all this comes at a cost. As François Pfeiffer at Accord in France puts it, “You can’t have a Mercedes for the price of a Renault Twingo.”
Getting the formula right is imperative and schools work hard to devise the perfect programme for individual executives. Franco De Bono at the Executive Training Institute (ETI) in Malta states, “Executives take up immersion programmes and come over with an objective which must be achieved by the end of their stay.”
Zammit is keen to stress their hard work in devising the perfect programme for each individual executive. “We don’t just pay lip service to the tailor-made aspect,” Zammit asserts. “We perform a needs analysis and interview and make sure that we cover as many of the client’s demands as possible.”
Within the broad bracket of business courses, different schools include different aspects of learning. “Executives demand more instruction on communication skills embedded in the business English course,” relates Krini Askanis, Director of Language Conquests EFL in Cyprus. “Specifically they ask for training on developing interpersonal skills, presentational skills (internal and external), better business relationships and adopting the right strategies, negotiation and selling skills, the power of language and writing business communication skills.”
Marco Pinna, Director and CEO of The Language Academy (TLA) in the USA, says they place great emphasis not only on business language skills but also on social communication in business situations. “It is just too common for us to train a high-ranking banker who can master a highly sophisticated financial vocabulary but feels uncomfortable socialising with peers at an international convention,” he reports. “Most business is done at the dinner table and sometimes a joke at the right time may win our executive that large account.”
Altiplano Training in France, which provides one-to-one training only, has an option for executives where they can spend the whole day in the company of their teacher. “Some executives choose our more intensive package which adds lunch with the teacher, an afternoon activity of choice with a professional instructor, and company for the evening meal: a total of over 45 hours a week of structured language use,” says Joiner.
Many course providers also include networking opportunities for executives, and site visits to relevant companies to maximise their clients’ time away from the office. “In all our business English courses, our students gain an insight into the British and international business world and culture through meeting local business people who come to make presentations at the school, and visiting companies,” explains Harrap at Accord Manchester/Active English Academy in the UK. “Our students are also encouraged to participate in local business networking events, allowing them to put in practice the skills they learnt in the classroom, interacting with ‘real’ business people and for some, even doing some business.”
Technology has also been brought into the classroom environment. Hurford at Port Douglas English Language Centre says they equip their clients with iPads, computers, and up-to-date audio and video equipment. “We use varied teaching methodology and innovative techniques that make the learning process more efficient and achieve greater outcomes,” he relates.
The London School of English has introduced a videoconferencing element to some of its courses as, according to Tallon, this communication format provides a particular challenge for many non-native English speakers. “As social media and new technology take their place in daily business life, we need to ensure that our course content reflects those changes without losing our very personal tailored approach,” he asserts.
Delivering successful executive programmes is undoubtedly a skilful balancing act, especially in these difficult economic times. But many language training providers are optimistic for this year. “I expect that 2012 will see a small rise, as programmes that have been put off because of the crisis become essential for people coming in to new jobs,” affirms Maitland.
Maguire reports that for them 2012 got off to a good start. “We have, for example, just signed a contract with an international company for a block of 10 weeks of training to be used in the first half of the year. We were also heartened by the response to our executive programmes at a recent workshop where many agents mentioned an upsurge in enquiries about executive training.” The corporate world may have realised it can no longer neglect the training of its employees. “Companies are aware, I think, of the importance of investing in human capital and recognise that equipping their employees with business culture and professional language skills is a necessity, not a luxury,” concludes Maguire.
Executive language training providers not only have to ensure they deliver high quality tailor-made language learning programmes, but also that all the other facilities involved in the language stay of professional people is of a high standard. Executive Training Institute in Malta, for example, offers amenities including training rooms with interactive whiteboards and “high comfort levels to create an ideal professional and adult learning environment”, according to Franco De Bono at the centre.
Beyond the classroom, schools ensure that they offer high-spec accommodation choices. Most providers will arrange hotel accommodation or apartments as well as specific executive standard host families. Malaca Instituto in Spain, for example, offers executive standard rooms in its Club Hispanico onsite residence. “Practically all our diplomatic and executive clients stay in the ‘club’,” reports the school’s Bob Burger. “They appreciate the comfort and convenience and competitive pricing compared with an equivalent standard hotel.” As a result of this high demand, Malaca has increased the number of executive standard rooms which are large rooms, with a double bed, large bathroom, WiFi and private balcony and has also recently expanded its executive accommodation provision to include eight executive studios that include all features of the executive standard rooms as well as air conditioning, enhanced décor and furnishings, and a small kitchen area. “The new executive studios are appreciated by these clients, suggesting that they do look for a relatively high level of accommodation,” observes Burger.
While hotel and private apartments are popular among some executive clients, host families are preferred by others. Executive host family accommodation is generally of a higher standard than regular host family provision. At The Language Academy in the USA, host family accommodation for executives includes private bathrooms, swimming pools and hosts who operate or have operated in the business world.
Pia Zammit at Skylark School of English in Malta says they offer self-catering apartment, hotel and homestay options. “The most popular is homestay,” she says. “We find that our most popular course is a very intensive six private hours of classes a day. Therefore most of our executive students tend to prefer a home away from home atmosphere where meals are cooked and beds are made but it’s not as impersonal as a hotel.” Skylark’s executive standard host families have, according to Zammit, “a superior abode, [must] spend more time than average with the student and also that the student has a single room with ensuite or single-use bathroom”.
The Global Language Institute in the USA also offers executive level host families. Director of International Marketing at the school, David Maguire, says these hosts are generally from a business background and are experienced in hosting professionals. Maguire says many of their clients prefer this option. “Some participants request this option, feeling that the family environment is more comfortable and that it enhances their language-learning experience. Others prefer an environment with fewer distractions, and opt for hotel or long-stay apartments, and we offer a lot of options in that regard.”
The executive sector of the language training industry can be a tricky one in which to operate for overseas advisory centres, with some executive language providers receiving most of their bookings directly from clients or companies. Nathalie Harrap at Accord Manchester/Active English Academy in the UK relates that many companies approach them directly rather than going through an agency, and many send them clients year after year. “Some companies contact us because we have been recommended by former students or other companies who use our services,” she explains. “There are very few bookings from agencies for executive courses. Most executives courses are booked direct by the company or from our website. I think it is because it is more difficult and more time-consuming for agencies to sell business language programmes.”
“Executive courses cater for a relatively small niche market of high income earners, who rely on language skills to further their careers,” comments David Hurford at Port Douglas Language Centre in Australia. “Accessing and targeting that niche market takes time and extra effort.”
Sanja Kevric at Accademia Lingue e Culture Europee in Italy also says they receive most of their bookings directly. “It has mostly been word-of-mouth which has resulted in us having a long lasting collaboration with a certain number of companies that keep sending us their executives for training.”
However, Hauke Tallon at The London School of English, UK, says that although companies do approach them directly, the majority of their bookings come through agencies. “Our preferred way of working is through corporate-focused local agents as we can build good, long lasting relationships with companies through good local partners,” he says, adding, “In many ways executive and business language courses are easier to sell. Clients are clearer on what they are trying to achieve and recognise the added-value and career benefits.”
Marco Pinna at The Language Academy in the USA says they also prefer to work with advisory centres. “Our executive courses are sold through agencies that specialise in adult programmes and have a strong focus on training quality,” he relates. “The challenge is in the difficulty to find agents who have a deep knowledge of the programme and have developed promotional strategies for this specific educational field.”