25 May 2023

Leigh-Ann Hayward, Head of Corporate Education, in conversation with Pietro Odendaal, Head of School of Financial Services: Academic and David Venter, Head of School of Financial Services: Operations, Strategy and Student Experience.

Leigh-Ann Hayward (LH): Before we start on the topic of student experience, let’s share your important news. The new Milpark School of Financial Services has now been officially launched, merging the former schools of Investment & Banking and Financial Planning & Insurance. What excites you most about this and how will it impact the student experience?

Pietro Odendaal (PO): It’s great that we’re keeping in touch with the market. The merger essentially echoes the growing fluidity of the financial services space; for example, banks are increasingly offering more than just traditional banking services. So it made sense for us at Milpark to also bring all those disciplines under one roof. It allows us to be more flexible in our offerings and, as a team, debate the combination of skills now in demand. So much so that we are launching a new qualification next year that opens up opportunities for more students to pursue higher qualifications part-time and, with the various electives, build transferability of skills in the industry.

David Venter (DV): The merger allows us to create depth across all areas of financial services. Businesses are no longer siloed, as they once were, and technology is changing learning and business all the time. In terms of student experience, there are constant improvements – from onboarding through teaching to graduation. Already, we’ve made it easier for corporate students to join our courses, as we’ve increased the number of start dates for certain programmes, which means organisations can put forward their staff about every eight weeks throughout the year. It’s a continuous improvement process.

LH: Milpark offers a sophisticated online learning environment: how does it enable a healthy work-life-study balance? What support can students access?

PO: The asychronous learning we offer –  learning to your own schedule – definitely allows students greater flexibility. Lectures are recorded and can be accessed when needed. The learning units become more and more bite-sized, so that students can watch them, for instance, on the weekends or on their way to work. With our corporate programme, the synchronous sessions – the live sessions students attend at specific times – are held during working hours. And in terms of Milpark support, there is a multi-faceted portfolio, from student counsellors offering psycho-social support to academic support provided by online tutors. The tutor offering allows students to ask questions at any time and they will be responded to within 48 hours. One-on-one sessions with lecturers are also available.

DV: Everything we do at Milpark ensures we provide education to students on the go, increasing accessibility and flexibility. There are always incremental improvements made during the year in that regard. In addition, more than 90% of our academic staff have studied while working, so they have personal experience of what it is like to balance work and study. I think that’s a great advantage in terms of how we structure the workload and interact with students.

LH: What do organisations offer to support their student employees – before, during, and after their studies? And are there any insights from students that would be helpful to L&D professionals?

PO: Although employers may pay for their studies or give study leave, we struggle more with the ways that employers don’t always fully support their student employees. For instance, even short courses can require 25 hours of study per week, which points to a need for employers to be flexible and have empathy for the workload that students face, including allowing sufficient time for them to prepare for their studies.

We also find that, although L&D departments are aware of students’ study requirements, often their immediate line managers are not – and these are the people whose support students most need. We invite line managers to induction, as well as L&D staff.

DV: Yes, there is sometimes a need for more support during the actual studying, especially as the courses are often compulsory. We would suggest study groups are encouraged, even at work, along with much more active support from line managers. For myself, my own personal experience of managing the work/study/family life balance confirms that students need to make a plan that works for them for study at home as well.

LH: Leaders also need a healthy work-life balance to be effective – I find the simple acts of walking my dogs in nature, reading and sharing food and laughter with friends is a way for me to recharge and put things back in perspective. What do YOU do to disconnect from work?

PO: I’ve been working from home since 2017 and I don’t have a separate office; but I do have an old-school desk which I can close at the end of the day and “hide” the computer away. I think rituals to replace the daily commute are helpful: I take the dog for a walk– something that signals we are done with work. You need to be kind to yourself and draw a line. Eight hours work, eight hours sleep and eight hours life – so you can keep filling your bucket.

DV: I will get to Pietro’s level of balance, when I grow up! For now, three little people keep me and my wife busy at the end of the day; but the whole work-life balance thing is an ongoing journey for those of us who work from home. I’m definitely still learning…!