To many who feel stuck in their career some years after graduation, getting an MBA seems a natural choice for career advancement.
But is it really necessary? The vast supply of MBA courses, from those offered online or on a part-time basis to those of a limited duration, inevitably raises questions about standards.
Indeed, a recent report by executive search firm Bó Lè Associates points out that the MBA is no longer unique, and has in fact become relatively common amongst senior management. Even PhDs have become ubiquitous amongst top professionals as higher education becomes more easily accessible.
The firm nonetheless stands by the value of the qualification, citing a survey by GMAC in 2011 showing that 86 per cent of MBA respondents were employed after graduation, with three out of four respondents finding their graduate management degree to be instrumental in their employment. MBAs are particularly useful for highly skilled technical professionals such as engineers who are looking to move up and break through the glass ceiling in their field, it says. A number of top companies, especially in the financial services industry such as Merrill Lynch, place a heavy emphasis on post-graduate education, and consider an MBA a “minimum requirement” for upward career progression into the ranks of senior executives.
Prospects are expected to be particularly promising in high-growth markets such as China. Businessweek reported double-digit growth in demand for MBA candidates in China, while a TopMBA’s Jobs and Salary survey predicted a 35 per cent rise in job opportunities for MBA candidates in the region’s 2012-2013 hiring cycle. At the same time, starting salaries and bonuses for MBA professionals at multinational firms in Asia-Pacific have already jumped 20 per cent.
Bó Lè reaches the interesting conclusion that “while the skills taught during an MBA course may not be directly necessary for one’s career development, the growing necessity for this qualification means that it is still in a professional’s best interests to attain one”. It rightly points out that not everyone, even those in the business sector, needs the same skill sets to progress in their career. Some well-experienced marketing executives may broaden their horizons and benefit more from a humanities course. It may be more useful sometimes to be trained in areas one knows little of. The variety of needs among professionals from diverse sectors means that perhaps there is no course that suits everyone. As attractive as an MBA is to many, shrewd employers should pay attention to a person’s overall growth, not just his qualifications, especially one that is attainable by many if not by all.