Our fast-paced career-driven society places a high premium on upgrading skills and qualifications at all levels in order to meet the demands set by companies, customers and ourselves. With the establishment of more business schools and new niche qualifications being developed, aspiring management candidates are starting to review their options and future prospects, increasingly asking the question: is the MBA still relevant?
Started in the late 1950s as an offshoot of management science, the MBA was originally developed to leverage this new field’s ideology, methodology and thinking to drive a completely different approach to management. “Almost 70 years later, it is to be expected that both institution and student themselves are questioning the continued relevance of the qualification given how the role of managers and leaders has changed and economies have evolved,” says Dr Renosi Mokate, Executive Director and CEO of Unisa’s Graduate School of Business Leadership (SBL). “Issues as diverse as data analytics and stress management were not even considerations at the time the MBA was conceptualised, buttoday they are.”
In reviewing the MBA’s relevance and – critically – whether it will be a career-enabler, Mokate highlights that students need to look at the detailed programme offering in the context of their individual journeys. “Many business schools have updated their curricula to reflect the current needs of the market including course material that speaks to issues of, for example, sustainability, ethics and governance. The fundamentals of the MBA – in terms of analytical thinking and mindful questioning – are arguably still relevant in most instances however. As such, it’s about taking the time to see whether the course offered will equip you with the skills you need in your complex role as a manager going forward.”
Any investment in postgraduate education should be an investment in your future career – which cannot be divorced from the qualification to be studied. As careers in certain industries and sectors become more specialised, it is worth weighing up whether a specialist degree could be more beneficial than a generalist qualification in the long term. “While your planned next step up the career ladder will undoubtedly influence your decision to study, you need to look beyond that,” explains Mokate. “Apart from the subject matter itself, you should also consider the skills you will acquire in the process, particularly critical thinking and analysis. These then need to be weighed up in the greater context of your future and your ultimate vocational destination. Perhaps most important to note however is thatyour application of your learning and qualification makes it relevant, as opposed to what the market states.”
From a specialist perspective, Mokate notes that the SBL has seen an increase in MBL (Master of Business Leadership) applications over the past year. “Students who see themselves as potential change-agents or who want to learn to manage themselves better in order to lead others are finding the MBL the preferred choice. This is also the case for those wanting to learn to think more strategically.”
With today’s managers being required to lead, innovate and influence, as well as understand and master the evolving micro- and macro-business environments, equipping yourself with the skills and savvy you need to make the most of your future has become a non-negotiable for most. In evaluating how best to fast-track your career however, it is critical that you invest in the right qualifications to enable your journey. As choices increase and programmes become more refined, it is worth taking the time to find out whether an MBA is the correct qualification for you based on your needs. In this way you’ll ensure it becomes a legacy investment.