An M.B.A. no doubt bolsters any résumé and allows many students to walk through professional doors that would have otherwise been shut. But once an M.B.A. graduate has stepped over that threshold, their skills will be put to the test. And while many M.B.A. students may be well versed in the nuances of finance, accounting, and analysis, employers have recently indicated that they need a more diverse set of skills from many of these high priced employees.
Increasingly, employers in various fields are seeking workers who have a proficiency in project management. Skills like time management, the ability to implement strategic change, and cost management, among others, are in great demand in the wake of the economic recession.
In an October 2009 Economist Intelligence Unit report, 90 percent of executives surveyed claimed that project management is either critical or somewhat important to their operations, while a mere 37 percent of respondents felt their firm did at least a "very good" job of managing important projects.
The root of this problem lies in some business schools, says Mark Langley, CEO of the Project Management Institute, a not-for-profit membership association for the field. "[Some] M.B.A. programs don't have a strong focus on implementation and execution [of project management skills]," he says.
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A PMI study indicates that there will be roughly 1.2 million new project management jobs created every year for the next 10 years, on average. Part of the growth is fueled by the generation of baby boomers reaching retirement, as well as by companies vigorously emphasizing efficiency in the post-recession economy.
Universities are recognizing this need and are trying to step up to meet it, Langley says. "The interest in the academic side is driven by the demand in the private sector," he says. "[There is] a gap in the number of qualified project managers today and that will be needed in the future."
After conducting surveys and interviews with employers in advance of the school's massive curriculum overhaul, University of California—Davis Graduate School of Management administrators repeatedly found that employers were dissatisfied with new employees' project management skills. Simply being a proficient number-cruncher doesn't go as far in today's business landscape, says the school's dean, Steven Currall.
"Employers tend to feel that the M.B.A. graduates are strong [in] technical business areas like finance and accounting and quantitative analysis," he says. "[But], they want more team management, leadership, strategic thinking skills, and project management skills."
As a result, UC-Davis will require students to take part in a 20-week project management course beginning in fall 2012. The course will encourage students to solve problems and create business plans in real time for companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 firms. Currall feels the requirement will allow all UC-Davis graduates to hit the ground running once they enter the job market. "We're getting students out of the classroom," he says. "These Fortune 500 companies and Silicon Valley startups are becoming the classrooms."
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Numerous other schools have implemented project management programs with a goal of preparing some students to become project management professionals after they pass a PMI-administered exam. Schools like Oklahoma City University, Meredith College, and the Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business are all weaving more project management instruction into their traditional business classes for either graduate or undergraduate business students.
And students have been receptive. American University's Kogod School of Business, for instance, has offered a project management course for nearly a decade, but student interest has only peaked in recent years. The school has about 160 full-time students, yet more than 30 took the project management course this academic year—more than double the amount who took the class four years ago.
"There are a lot of employers that are looking for M.B.A.s that have some knowledge and experience in project management and could be certified in the near future," says Gwanhoo Lee, the associate professor who designed and teaches the project management class at Kogod. "I think students sensed that there was a huge demand out there and they responded to that demand by taking my class."
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