Why do M.B.A.s require project management skills?

An M.B.A. undoubtedly strengthens any résumé and allows many students to enter professional doors that would otherwise be closed. However, once an M.B.A. graduate has passed that threshold, their abilities will be put to the test. While many M.B.A. students are well-versed in the intricacies of finance, accounting, and analysis, employers have recently indicated that they require a more diverse set of skills from many of these high-priced employees.

Employers in a variety of fields are increasingly looking for workers with project management experience. Time management, the ability to implement strategic change, and cost management, to name a few, are in high demand.

According to an Economist Intelligence Unit report published in October 2009, 90 percent of executives surveyed said project management is either critical or somewhat important to their operations, while only 37 percent said their company did a “very good” job of managing important projects.

According to Mark Langley, CEO of the Project Management Institute, a non-profit membership organization for the field, the root of the problem is in some business schools. “[Some] M.B.A. programs do not place a strong emphasis on implementation and execution [of project management skills],” he claims.

According to a PMI study, approximately 1.2 million new project management jobs will be created each year for the next ten years. Part of the growth is being driven by the retirement of the baby boomer generation, as well as by companies aggressively emphasizing efficiency in the post-recession economy.

Employers in a variety of fields are looking for M.B.A.s with project management experience. Time management skills, as well as the ability to put strategic plans into action, are required.

According to Langley, universities are recognizing this need and attempting to fill it. “Demand in the private sector drives interest in the academic side,” he says. “[There is] a shortage of qualified project managers today, and more will be required in the future.”

Beginning in the fall of 2012, students at the University of California—Davis Graduate School of Management will be required to take a 20-week project management course. The course will encourage students to solve problems and create business plans for companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 firms in real-time.

Several other schools have instituted project management programs with the goal of preparing some students to become project management professionals after passing a PMI-administered exam.

“There are a lot of employers looking for M.B.A.s who have some knowledge and experience in project management and could be certified in the near future,” says Gwanhoo Lee, associate professor at American University’s Kogod School of Business who designed and teaches the project management class. “I believe students sensed a high demand and responded to that demand by enrolling in my class.”

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