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Muhammad Amjad completed the MBA Essentials program at Rotman School of Management earlier this year and it helped advance his career.Ryan Pfeiffer/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Muhammad Amjad was mid-career with a master’s degree in computer science, a great job as a senior program manager at Telus, a wife and two teenaged children when he decided to further his education.

When he came to Canada from Pakistan, via Dubai, a decade ago, Mr. Amjad hoped to complete a master of business administration, or MBA, but the full two-year program was too expensive and time-consuming with a family and full-time job. Instead, he enrolled in the MBA Essentials program at Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in November, 2021, and graduated in January, 2022.

“The reason I wanted to do this program was primarily, as I like to tell my children, to open up my mind,” says Mr. Amjad, who lives in Ajax, Ont., just east of Toronto. “It was also to understand how business strategies work, how the economics work, and global supply chain concepts.”

With the support of his leadership team at work and his family, he enrolled in the six-week program. He says it was a great experience that gave him the opportunity to expand his knowledge about everything from business strategies and negotiation skills to business management and pitching ideas confidently.

He completed the course work online (the entire curriculum went virtual during the pandemic) on weekends and outside of office hours during the week as he continued working.

“It was a great opportunity,” he says. “I wanted to have an edge and get better.”

He recently moved into a senior strategy role at Telus, an advancement for which he credits the Rotman program.

“I think it was a great opportunity,” he says.

The MBA Essentials program was originally conceived as a sort of prelude to an MBA, giving potential students the opportunity to try out an abbreviated curriculum and get a sense of whether an MBA was right for them, says Walid Hejazi, the academic director of executive programs at Rotman and a professor of economic analysis and policy at the school.

And while many students still take the program to test the waters, over the years it has become a sought-after program on its own, he says.

“It’s a really a stand-alone micro-credential that’s obviously very attractive to the market,” Dr. Hejazi says.

In fact, the government of Ontario has designated the program a micro-credential, which means students are eligible for financial aid to pay for the course.

Students enroll from a wide array of sectors to improve their understanding of management principles, he says.

“They rightly feel that understanding the vocabulary of business, the key themes, what the best practices are in strategy and in finance and in marketing … is really going to help them be more effective managers,” he says.

Six times a year for six weeks, the program offers instruction in macroeconomics, accounting, finance, business strategy, marketing, and diversity and inclusion. It costs $2,600.

During the pandemic the program went online and will remain a virtual offering, Dr. Hejazi says. About 80 per cent of the students are in Canada and the rest international, predominantly from the United States and Asia, he adds.

“People are living busy lives. [The courses] are all mobile enabled, which means if I’m taking a bus or a train or driving, I can listen to, or watch, the lessons,” Dr. Hejazi says. “It allows such a broad cross-section of people from around the world to get access to world-class education, without having to commit a full year or two years to it.”

The McGill Executive Institute in Montreal has offered a version of its mini-MBA for almost 75 years, says Gabriela Navarrete-Rolls, mini-MBA program manager at the institute.

The program offers online and on-site course options and students have the flexibility to mix and match course offerings to work at their own pace, she says. The pandemic accelerated the institute’s move to online courses and has seen program participation expand across Canada and as far afield as France, Lebanon, Kenya and China, she says.

It attracts a diverse community of managers and executives in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who generally have a minimum of five years of managerial experience, she says. Where the full MBA often attracts fresh graduates or junior-level managers, the mini-MBA draws mid-career professionals who want to refresh or update their skills while continuing to work, she says.

The certificate program requires much less of a time commitment than a full MBA and is growing in popularity, she says. It’s also much cheaper – about $14,500 for the entire mini-MBA series compared with about $90,000 for a full MBA.

The mini-MBA incorporates all the major learning pillars of the MBA program, including strategy and business models, human resources, sustainability, electronic-data interchange and data analytics, she adds.

“It’s essentially a cost-effective and time-effective solution for those who are seeking to put those management practices into one program,” Ms. Navarrete-Rolls says. “[Students] are able to take the main topics and themes that you’re going to be exploring in a two-year program and you’re able to do it within the equivalent of 20 days.”