There are two ways to go when choosing courses: you can follow the structure of your chosen career or developing across a spectrum of skills.
The options have led to the development of an IoD Chartered Director qualification because as John Weston of the IoD points out "most directors have followed vertical career ladders but our membership comes from a horizontal level of achievement and we needed a qualification that would appeal to that."
In other words, when you have become an accountant, lawyer etc, you have a career structure that takes you up to the boardroom level but once there you may well need the skills of a completely different career.
To follow your chosen career you need to make specific decisions about what to learn. Most fields have relevant industry qualifications and there will be a well-trodden route – one which that you are likely to have done or have followed before you decided to go solo. Learning a new set of skills is likely to be more of a challenge.
For example, it is easy enough to employ an accountant, for example, but it might also pay dividends if you understand the basics of it as well.
The UK has a raft of colleges offering full and part-time courses. One of the easiest ways to find out more is to use the internet search engines. Do bear in mind that different rules of entry (and payment) apply for mature students. And take into account your current workload before committing to a course - one or two evenings at college a week may not be feasible.
Another very good source of courses are local councils. Many run a variety of courses, specifically designed for part-timers. These are often evening classes that require a little, but not too much, homework between sessions. These could vary from a basic accountancy course to learning a new language - or a completely unrelated skill such as upholstery which could provide another source should the tough times arrive.
If you're looking for a more academically inclined qualification then look at your local University although part-time courses are normally limited, the other alternative that most take is the Open University as it allows you to work at a distance and at your own speed.
If you want to learn more managerial skills, something like a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) might provide the solution. An MBA often takes several years to complete but can be combined with a fullt-ime job. Students complete course-work in a series of block releases. An MBA is usually divided into 12 modules, comprising eight compulsory sections and four optional ones in which a student might choose to specialise in a work-related subject.
Nottingham University of has a variety of MBA courses. Centre director Chris O'Brien says that most students are in full-time work while completing the course but there are some who choose to concentrate on the course - and there are attractive bursaries to help them afford the tuition. Most students are in their 30s, although there are both younger and older exceptions.
O'Brien stresses that the aim of the course is "to give a framework from which students can help run businesses. They have an understanding of business which allows them to move businesses forward in a changing environment." More info on MBAs around the country can be found at the Association of MBAs (www.ambaguide.com)
The time spent getting to and from a course and the inflexible times of lectures is often the reason that more business owners and managers don't take-up training or education, which is where online training comes in. Online training where you can work over the internet from any location and where you can start and stop lectures when you choose is becoming more attractive particularly when the cost of getting online is as little as £12 per month.
Companies like E-Learnity (www.elearnity.com) work closely with an employer to provide the necessary training package for its staff. Others like blueU (www.blueu.com) and iLearn.To ( www.ilearnto.com) also offer courses on an individual basis. The down side is most of the courses are technology based however this is begging to change.
Another criticism is the lack of one-to-one help but a lot of online courses now offer telephone support and tools like Microsoft NetMeeting help course members share questions. The OU is just one academic institution to make use of the internet as a way of reaching students.