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Date published: 21 June 2012

Professionals seeking to secure promotions and expand their careers are studying short courses in IT, finance and communication.

Many understand that the right mix of skills on their resumes can give them an edge over their rivals in the job market.

Susan Heron, chief executive of the Australian Institute of Management in Victoria and Tasmania, says managers go into "CV management" mode because they recognise the need to increase their skills throughout their careers.

"If you get to the position of CEO, it's expected that you have financial, legal, marketing, HR [skills]," she says. Managers are also expected to be able to think clearly, motivate their teams and be innovative.

This year, the management institute has developed a short course that gets people to understand how their brain works so they can better lead teams.

Heron says the course, Your Brain@Work, helps managers design their workplace around how they think and operate best.

Participants explore, for example, how to harness their team's creative abilities and minimise distractions during the working day.

"It makes for a less stressful leader," Heron says.

Paul Wappett, CEO of Open Universities Australia, is also finding that people want to develop their communication and thinking skills.

OUA offers degrees as well as single units of study. It has 1400 units offered by 20 Australian universities and other tertiary education providers, including TAFE institutes.

One of the most popular of the units is "learning and communication behaviour", which focuses on organisational behaviour.

"[The unit] recognises that technical skills are only part of the equation for employers in terms of what makes a promotable employee," Wappett says.

"[Being able] to communicate, to collaborate and to articulate your thoughts is increasingly important." When people want technical skills, Wappett says they choose carefully.

"Students are really discerning at the moment about the type of education that they want," he says.

Some do short courses because they need particular skills to help them in their current job.

Others, he says, take single units because they are looking for promotion opportunities.

"And so they'll take a single unit to demonstrate a commitment to both developing themselves and picking up specific skills." IT is one example. Although the number of people taking IT degree courses has dropped since the early l990s, the number doing short courses is growing.

Wappett says short courses in Novell, Cisco and Microsoft are increasingly attractive to employers.

He adds that many university graduates are studying OUA TAFE units in IT and management.

"TAFE offerings in the applied space are increasingly popular," he says.

Peter Wells, head of the accounting discipline group at University of Technology, Sydney, has seen an upturn in the number of people wanting to do short courses in new software to improve their career options in finance and accounting.

He says business management software courses in SAP ERP are particularly popular. SAP (systems applications and products in data processing) is part of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, which are responsible for recording transactions for companies.

Wells says SAP ERP short courses attract accountants who need to talk to IT people and vice versa.

SAP training is also offered at other higher education institutions, such as Victoria University and Queensland University of Technology.

Wells says Excel courses are also popular with graduates.

In their undergraduate business or commerce degrees, students receive much practice in PowerPoint and Word, but learn only rudimentary Excel skills.

Wells says Excel becomes more relevant to graduates when they begin their careers. The skills, he says, can set them up for promotional opportunities.

UTS is also in the process of updating "conversion" short courses that will allow accountants to become registered as tax agents; and for accountants to gain accreditation with professional bodies.

A professorial fellow in career education and development at the Australian Catholic University, Jim Bright, agrees that short courses can give people's resumes a boost.

Completing courses can show prospective employers that job seekers are committed to professional development.

But Bright, who also runs Bright and Associates, a career development practice, warns that people can list too many short courses on their resumes.

He says it's not a good idea for managers to list any they did 20 years ago.

Bright also says it's important that people do a little research before enrolling in courses. Prospective students should ensure that IT courses are up to date. He also says they should look closely at the credentials of presenters and whether official training bodies or professional societies recognise the courses.

"Equally, you've got to work out what your own motivations are and have a clear set of objectives," Bright says.

"You've got to do your homework first."

Date: 18 June 2012
Publication: The Australian Financial Review
Title: Short courses part of long-term success