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Business boot camp

January 24, 2023
UBC_MELMHLP_Businessbootcamp

Ask a Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) or Master of Health Leadership and Policy (MHLP) graduate about their courses and you’ll hear about APPP504 or “business boot camp.” This compulsory three-week course gives students a big-picture understanding of how the different disciplines of business come together in planning and decision-making.

The APPP504 course, Business Acumen for Technical Leaders, covers six core business competencies: accounting, organizational behaviour and human resources, finance, marketing, business technology management and professional development.

It complements the content covered in the other APPP courses and electives offered through UBC Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School that account for up to half of the MEL and MHLP curricula. Most modules follow a lecture format, with individual and small group exercises and assignments giving students the opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills they’re learning.

Diving into business

While students may be familiar with some of the course content from their professional roles, the breadth of the course’s modules ensures that all students are exposed to new concepts.

“I understood basic accounting, but I didn’t know how to read financial statements,” says Harry Singh, who is currently completing the MEL in High-Performance Buildings.

“We were given case studies from companies and then learned how to calculate different areas of the financial statements, like current assets and inventory turnover. It gave us a high-level understanding of the data that goes into a financial statement.”

Irene Chen, an MHLP student in Seniors Care, was also new to the ins and outs of financial statements. “The accounting and finance modules gave me a broader perspective of what I need to look for or think ahead to in my decision-making as a leader,” she says.

“This is a crucial skill for health leaders who must focus on budgets and understand the trade-offs of resources and equipment to meet bottom-line requirements.”

Communication practices for team effectiveness

The course’s professional development module gives students opportunities to practice their communication skills through role-playing and Conflict Theatre. “This module explored how to build and deepen relationships on a managerial level through strong communication practices,” says Harry.

“It was an experiential class that had us practicing different ways of handling a conflict or difficult conversation, and how to strengthen empathy or bring together multiple perspectives.”

Students say that these tangible skills will enable them to be better leaders. “The professional development and organizational behaviour modules changed my perspective on team effectiveness,” says Agata Stanielewicz, who is doing her MHLP in Clinical Education.

“I’m now much more aware of groupthink and cognitive bias, and I’ve learned how to be a stronger leader through active listening. In the professional development module, we practiced our coaching skills through a role play where you coached your partner to come up with a solution or goal they wanted to achieve in their own work situation.”

Gaining new perspectives

Like the other APPP courses in the MEL and MHLP curriculum, Business Acumen for Technical Leaders brings together all MEL and MHLP students to create a diverse and immersive experience in working with colleagues from wide-ranging professional and personal backgrounds.

“Certainly in the accounting and finance courses, you could see how engineers use their math skills in a business context, and I was able to learn from them in terms of logic, process and analysis,” says MHLP student Irene.

“But in other modules, like human resources, marketing and professional development, the health-care students had a lot to contribute in asking people to consider multiple perspectives and being more comfortable with open-ended questions.”

Jiyan Pattarwala, a student in the MEL in High-Performance Buildings, says he gained valuable insight from the healthcare professionals in the MHLP.

“Their perspective on organizational behaviour and human resource management was very different in that it tapped into the emotional component and grey areas that technical people often miss.”

“When you’re leading a team in your professional role,” adds Agata, “you have to work with people outside your area of specialty, and that might feel uncomfortable at first. This course gave me the opportunity to open my mind to new problem-solving approaches I didn’t know existed.”

The three-week course is intense, with half-day classes and group assignments due later that day. However, it’s not all work: students also participated in social events, including a creative painting night, sports activities, walks through Pacific Spirit Park and more.

This enables classmates to get to know one another outside of the formal classroom environment.

Leadership development

Students leave the course with a high-level understanding of basic business concepts, giving them the knowledge they’ll need to contribute meaningfully to strategic decision-making in their professional leadership roles.

“I’ll make use of each module, either directly or indirectly,” says Jiyan.

“As you move up the career ladder, technical specialization does not matter as much as communication and being able to manage all facets of the business, from finance to marketing. This was a crash course in these areas and is helping me to be a better leader.”