A severe shortage of management staff across Asia and an increasingly competitive market is generating greater demand for consortium programmes. Richard Ivey School of Business, Asia said demand for its Ivey Consortium Executive (ICE) programme had increased significantly in the past two or three years. 'Companies urgently need to accelerate the development of their talent pool, or to use development opportunities as a means to retain talent,' said director of executive programmes Jorge Choy. He said client recommendations to other organisations had also contributed to the increasing demand, and last year Ivey increased the number of its consortium programmes from two to three a year. Della Wong, acting director of executive education programmes at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's (HKUST) business school, said the learning needs from consortium programmes increased as competition for business intensified. 'Company leaders need to refresh and polish their knowledge from world-class education, benchmark the best practices from other leading companies or industries and, at the same time, network with executives from diverse backgrounds,' Ms Wong said, adding that for many companies, managing the talent pool was a key issue for continued growth and success. She said to address this issue, the consortium programme, offered through the Executive Education office, served as a 'golden opportunity' to train, develop, retain and promote professionals with potential. Consortium programmes combine an element of tailor-made content and material which is used in open enrolment programmes. Usually these programmes combine a few executives from a handful of organisations with running costs shared between the participating companies. Mr Choy said Ivey's ICE programme was a 'mini-EMBA' consisting of four modules - in leadership, strategy, finance and marketing - each lasting three days. Modules are delivered over a six-month period by professors from Ivey's Canada campus. Each programme can accommodate between five and eight executives from five to seven organisations, many of them already MBA degree holders with some even holding PhDs. 'The primary focus of the programme, therefore, isn't on offering up even more theory and knowledge,' Mr Choy said. 'The programmes focus on improving the ability of participants to exercise good judgment when faced with real-world business challenges. This is an essential skill for leaders and much valued by corporations.' Like Ivey's MBA programme, the ICE programme makes use of the business school's case study method, 'which constantly challenges participants to come up with effective solutions and make tough decisions for difficult and complex business cases'. Many executives might have spent their careers in one industry or company, or might have risen through their organisation by specialising in one function, Mr Choy said. 'As a result, they may have developed a degree of tunnel vision,' he said, adding the consortium programmes helped executives widen their horizons by providing them with the opportunity to network and share best practices with successful executives from other major organisations. 'Participants benefit by seeing how managers from different backgrounds tackle issues in different ways.' Mr Choy said that in the course of their daily working lives executives spent much of their time putting out fires. 'They simply don't have time to think. The ICE programme provides participants with the opportunity to reflect on the big picture, to reassess their strategies as well as their professional and personal priorities,' he said. HKUST's course, Leading for Success Consortium Programme, was developed from the executive programmes the business school runs and, like Ivey's ICE programme, covers strategy and marketing, leadership and change management, innovation and creativity, and strategic management. Two- and three-day modules are held over four months, allowing busy executives to fit the programme into their schedules. Subject experts and corporate speakers give talks on their areas of expertise, bringing to participants their latest insights on certain issues and business matters. According to Ms Wong, the programme is a 'golden opportunity' to develop high performers and future leaders of organisations or companies in meeting the challenges and opportunities in a rapidly changing business world but, she said, the consortium programme was different from a regular MBA. 'It focuses on the experience sharing and insights exchanged between senior executives from different companies and industries during four intensive modules.' Ms Wong said the programme acted as a platform to stimulate thinking among individuals, and for them to acquire cutting-edge insights that helped companies prosper, and prepared them for new challenges and responsibilities in today's dynamic business environment. Teaching modes take the form of lectures, case studies, facilitated discussions, role-plays, group discussions and simulation exercises. The programme runs once a year with the next intake scheduled for September.