NO MBA? DO NOT DESPAIR
Originally Published January 16, 2012 in "Canadian HR Reporter"
How valuable the MBA
In 1977, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and psychology, with some journalism experience. But instead of law school or the newspaper business, I opted to pursue an MBA.
I believed then, and still do now, that an MBA would provide me with a more complete view of the business world and round out my education for a career in the business sector. Whereas psychology and history gave me the ability to observe, assess and document relationships, interpersonal dynamics and the concept of power, the MBA offered the context and discipline to see it through the eyes of business leaders.
In the 1970s and 1980s, there was an ongoing debate between academia and the business world about the value of an MBA. Some employers expressed concern young MBAs fresh out of school would view themselves as better than those who had the work experience but lacked the academic training. You can imagine how this would be received by a manager with 10-plus years of sweat equity.
Eighty-one per cent of senior executives across Canada are more likely to consider an applicant with an MBA for a high-level job than a candidate without one, skills and experience being comparable, according to a study by Environics in 2010. That same year, in a Globe and Mail article, Ken Werker of Odgers Berndtson affirmed “MBAs offer an enhanced skill set that includes such things as critical thinking, specific expertise and well-developed networking.”
But internal candidates looking for promotions without an MBA need not despair. The majority of senior executives recognized the value of hiring from within, according to the Environics study, with 39 per cent suggesting an MBA was somewhat important and only eight per cent claiming it was very important. In other words, 53 per cent believed the degree was less important for internal candidates although it could bring an extra “level of knowledge and sophistication to the company.”
In the Pulse Survey by Canadian HR Reporter ( November 5, 2012)) and the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA), 52 per cent of respondents said an MBA is helpful but not critical to fast-track to a senior role, while only 18 per cent believed it to be critical — although 40 per cent claimed to be called upon to provide business rationale and analysis in their proposals.
Looking at the data, one could say — for the most part — that the larger the organization and the less experienced the HR professional, the more valuable the MBA is perceived to be in facilitating one’s future promotion to a senior role. For the 65 per cent of respondents who hold the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation, 73 per cent believe it has provided them with sufficient background to take on a senior role. Yet only 18 per cent currently are at the executive level at their organization and, of those, 33 per cent said the CHRP provides sufficient business grounding.
A self-fulfilling prophecy, perhaps, since their success could have resulted from commitment to the organization over a number of years rather than an academic degree. As a matter of context, they work predominantly in the manufacturing, government, health and not-for-profit sectors. Another interesting statistic highlighted that 23 per cent of the 840 human resources professionals do not hold a professional designation and 38 per cent of them are seriously looking at going the MBA route. Meanwhile, more than 38 per cent of respondents in middle management believe their HR training provided sufficient business background to take on a senior role, with another 26 per cent unsure.
Clearly, there is a need to provide additional business support to the HR career professionals at the entry to mid-management levels, and specifically in the areas of strategy and implementation, business operations and finance and audit.