IS a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) qualification still relevant? The answer is “yes”, according to human resources practitioners and academicians.
The MBA is an internationally recognised postgraduate degree designed to equip students with the skills and knowledge for a career in business management.
Last year’s Year-End Employer Poll Report by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which collates data on businesses and their hiring patterns, revealed that 68 per cent of companies hired MBA holders in 2016 and 79 per cent hired bachelor’s degree holders.
In 2017, 79 per cent of companies are expecting to hire MBA holders.
Globally, more than half (54 per cent) of employers plan to increase starting salaries for new MBA hires in 2016, either at the rate of inflation (33 per cent of companies) or higher (21 per cent).
BTI Consultants managing director and vice-president (Asia Pacific) Anthony Raja Devadoss said the MBA degrees awarded by top global business schools are generally more sought after by employers.
These business schools have a reputation for not only providing a higher quality of teaching, but also the opportunities in networking and sharing with delegates from corporate firms and countries which enhance the overall learning experience.
“For example, 89 per cent of INSEAD (European Institute of Business Administration graduate business school) graduates were employed within three months after graduation last year,” said Anthony.
Top business schools with triple accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Association of MBAs and European Quality Improvement System are valued higher than those without.
Anthony added that the triple accreditation shows the business school as having attained a certain quality in terms of programme design and content.
“Key parameters of an MBA programme include practical application of knowledge, industry-relevant content, and research and business consultancy work, and the teaching experience of the faculty.
“Of course when someone pursues a programme with a triple accredited business school, the alumni network is also an asset.”
Assistant Professor Dr Johari Mat, who is dean of Unirazak’s Graduate School of Business, said employers prioritise MBA hires as they are exposed to strategical rather than functional courses. They are trained in strategic skills to make business decisions. “It is a critical and in demand managerial skillset in day-to-day business operations,” he added.
University of Malaya’s Graduate School of Business director Associate Professor Dr Zakiah Saleh said many Malaysian universities, both public and private, offer MBA programmes due to demand.
“MBA programmes, with various levels of flexibility offered to attract the market, are a cash cow for many universities.”
The mode of studies offered is either traditional (face-to-face MBA) or on-line MBA (virtual classes).
“The range of credit hours is from 40 to 50 within 12 to 24 months’ duration. These variations result in a wide range of MBA graduate quality,” she added.
Anthony said it is a very competitive employment market and an additional qualification is advantageous, especially if it is relevant to the job.
“It gives a competitive edge for job seekers to stand out from others. The MBA programme is designed to expose individuals to different aspects of business such as accounting, economics, marketing, strategic management and human resources. They gain skills that allow them to work more effectively with their knowledge.
“The MBA programme provides a solid platform for individuals to advance in their career and for the country’s economic growth as well as it enhances the quality of our talent pool.”
Anthony added that the GMAC report indicates that there will be continuous demand for MBA graduates.
“As the talent market is getting more competitive and the business environment is more dynamic, the standards of candidate selection and acquisition are getting higher as well.
“Hence, while an MBA degree provides a better competitive edge, it may not guarantee the graduate his desired job or salary.”
Other influencing factors that impact the marketability of MBA graduates include their capabilities, quality of MBA degrees, work experience, affordability of employers and business requirements.
Johari said the MBA programme teaches students to think methodically and run a business, and it is a skill that can be applied across the industry.
Pursuing an MBA studies is driven by two motivations — career enhancement and change in career direction.
“MBA students must know the industry they want to work in after graduation. The value of an MBA relies on its ability to extend breadth and depth of knowledge, and expose students to a range of creative thinking and expertise. More importantly, MBA students must have high interpersonal and communication skills to outshine competitors.
“Most Fortune 500 companies prefer to hire MBA graduates. A manpower that has an abundance of expertise and business knowledge works hand-in-hand with information and technology to spur business activities.
“Demand for MBA graduates will be continuous in the job market. Previously demand came from the private sector only but a growing number of government agencies are realising the benefits of an MBA too.
“The emergence of entrepreneurial leadership in private and government sectors creates a strong demand for MBA graduates. All sectors, regardless of profit and non-profit orientations, prefer to recruit future leaders with entrepreneurial skills.”
Human capital solutions provider K-Pintar Sdn Bhd founder and chief executive officer RA Thiagaraja said the MBA programme has the potential to change the thought processes of students. But it is not the only key factor for career advancement.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to the individual student’s aims — is he pursuing an MBA for the paper qualification or does he want to gain knowledge? Once the objective is set, then the next question is which business school will be able to fulfil this requirement?
“There will still be a demand for MBA graduates as the programme prepares students for management positions. Specialised MBAs are a global trend. Markets the world over are looking for specialists.
“Managers have to embrace lifelong learning and have a willingness to learn, unlearn and relearn. MBA students also attend executive programmes to gain more specific knowledge related to their work. In a technological environment, this is essential.”
Zakiah said: “At UM, many students with an engineering and information technology background as well as those from the medical and health sciences sector enrol in the MBA programme. Some of them plan to start a business, climb the career ladder and/or enhance managerial skills.
“However, some fresh graduates do pursue the MBA — this can be a good start for a career.”
Marketability depends on how graduates fit the job requirements and/or hiring strategy of employers.
Anthony said: “Employers look for candidates who will successfully carry out the job, contribute to the business and fit into their corporate culture.
“MBA graduates must have relevant work experience and significant corporate achievements, as well as skills such as leadership, effective communication, critical thinking and problem-solving.
“Based on our survey, 80 per cent of employers look for candidates who are analytical with critical thinking skill; 79 per cent want candidates with the ability to evaluate, troubleshoot and analyse; and 75 per cent require the ability to resolve problems.
“MBA graduates are usually more versatile, their knowledge of business management allows them to fit into a management or administrative function of any industry.”
Johari added that the MBA programme is best for someone looking to venture into the competitive business market.
“It is a programme that develops future leaders’ skill where students will deal with the latest issues in business, newest management techniques and identify business challenges.”
Zakiah said: “Coming from different backgrounds and different industries with a minimum of three years’ working experience, UM MBA students are senior executives and above from established companies.
“These backgrounds provide a conducive learning environment, impactful learning experience and allow students to enhance their social network.
“In addition, the teaching and learning approach includes case studies, group work, problem-based learning, simulation and community engagement to enhance skills necessary for the graduates to be marketable.”
Sharing his insights, Thiagaraja said: “Managers and senior managers benefit the most from an MBA programme as they have real-world experience and insights to share with their peers, and they will be able to immediately put into practice what they learnt from the programme.
“For the fresh graduates with an MBA, employers will not give much value to their qualification, viewing them instead as recruits with a master’s degree but without any specific job skills or knowledge to perform their jobs immediately.
“Fresh graduates won’t immediately be put into decision-making roles just because of their MBA, rendering it more a matter of pride at having attained it rather than a useful qualification that will boost earning power and employability. Working adults in junior positions with an MBA will be viewed slightly better than fresh graduates.
“Having said that, the number of years of work experience is not an indication of whether or not an MBA will be beneficial to you. If you’ve been in the same junior position for seven to eight years, it will be an indication of your capability and competency, and it will be perceived negatively by employers.”
Generally, the market is willing to compensate more for MBA graduates especially at the entry level. GMAC reported that 58 per cent of companies surveyed intend to increase base starting salaries for new MBA hires in 2017 either at or above the inflation rate; 40 per cent will maintain salaries at their current level.
Anthony added: “Based on our experience, the salary component is determined by market performance, industry demand and affordability of the companies.
“For example, the management consulting industry and large corporations generally appreciate talent with MBA or postgraduate degree more than others, especially at entry or mid-level management level.”
Employers focus on maximising profit and minimising operational costs. Johari added: “MBA hires give them many advantages to minimise costs since they are skilful and knowledgeable and able to drive business.”
The salary scale again depends on the individual and the value he brings to the company. If he has the wrong work attitude, an MBA will count for little.
“Having said that, MBA graduates would have attained certain skills preparing them for leadership and decision-making roles, they may have an advantage over their peers with similar experience and competencies who do not have an MBA,” added Thiagaraja.
TRANSLATE EXPERIENCE INTO CREDIT EXEMPTIONS
THE second phase of the Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL) programme, APEL (C) or APEL (Credit) allows individuals to further save time and money on higher education by translating their experience into credits in their enrolled programmes.
APEL (C) is available at four higher education institutions and is expected to expand to more by year-end. INTI International University & Colleges (INTI) is the first and only private higher education institution to be awarded APEL (C).
INTI chief executive officer Tim Bulow said: “Our 2½ years MBA Learning Simplified, for example, offers online-based learning and requires a commitment of only an hour a day and RM1,000 a month.
“APEL (C) allows candidates to save up to six months through credit exemptions, allowing them to complete their MBA in just two years.
“We also understand that some may be hesitant to step back into academics after years away, so we provide one-on-one academic support for each APEL (C) candidate to smoothen the process from application to the assessment.”
Current INTI MBA Learning Simplified student Lai Chai Gim was the first student at INTI to be awarded APEL (C) after she applied for the two-year MBA Simplified Learning through APEL.
Lai joined the workforce after her diploma to be financially independent as she did not want to burden her parents with paying for her further education. Now she views being able to pursue and complete the higher education that she left behind years ago as a personal accomplishment.
“As I progress in my career, I find that furthering my education helps me place a structure to my learning process and enhances my work experience to a new level. I find it highly enjoyable and energising as I get to network with people from different industries and different ages. The flexible learning structure offered by INTI means that I can complete my coursework at home with my family while my children complete their homework,” Lai said.
“Preparing my portfolio for the APEL (C) assessment really helped me to document my skills and put into perspective the knowledge my years of experience have equipped me with. After all, our work experience and exposure is ingrained within us. The application process for APEL (C) merely reviews what we already know.”