MBA and engineering
There is now a strong case for engineers to study aspects of management, and perhaps even a Master of Business Administration course (MBA). But what relevance does an MBA have to the highly technical skills of a professional engineer, and is there a need for an MBA specifically for Engineers?
A postgraduate qualification is becoming more important for engineers in the future. The Engineering Council and the various Professional Bodies now require that to attain Chartered status (CEng), the graduate engineer must have studied to MEng level through an accredited degree route or alternatively studied a 'Matching Section' (equivalent to an MEng) through postgraduate study. One of the requirements of this 'matching section' is in the area of management. Graduate engineers must have studied management at postgraduate level in order to attain Chartered status.
One way of attaining this is through study on a Master of Business Administration course (MBA). About 25 percent of MBA students are engineers. Increasingly therefore it is expected that more graduate engineers will undertake this qualification in the future. Most MBA courses are aimed at all graduate disciplines. A few universities offer a technical MBA. For example, Sheffield Hallam University offers a unique MBA in Industrial Management.
It is important that engineers widen their knowledge and skills in the management area if they wish to become senior managers in manufacturing industry. Having already obtained a technical degree, an MBA completes their education in the wider areas of management that usually include subjects such as finance, marketing, human resource management, organisational behaviour, and management strategy. The engineer thus has the opportunity to quickly progress in their career usually through fast track promotion into very senior management posts.
This is also important because the role of the engineer is changing - within an industrial company, the engineer is likely to be the manager that has to implement new practices and new technology. Thus the engineer often becomes the primary manager of change within the modern organisation, which again requires specific skills and learning.
The MBA has given engineers the broad grounding that was missing in their technical degrees. MBA courses are therefore usually only for those graduates with work experience. Sharing this experience in seminar classes is one of the benefits of studying on an MBA. Mature students, who are usually studying part-time, can bring a wealth of experience to these classes. Assignments usually have the requirement to relate theory to the world of work by students using their own company as a case study. The student therefore gets the opportunity to understand the workings of the company in greater depth, in areas not usually covered in their engineering roles. The company can also benefit from this work through the student's assignment output. Recommendations may even be implemented!
All MBAs require the student to undertake a major project that is written up as a dissertation. This usually incorporates many of the taught modules of the course. In the case of the engineer they usually relate engineering aspects of a company with some or all of these taught modules. One example may be looking at the supply chain for particular products in the company, or a marketing strategy for the development and launch of a new product.
It is clear that both sponsoring companies and the students benefit from this work. The engineering MBA graduate is therefore well versed in management knowledge, skills and techniques, as well as their technical engineering abilities. Having an MBA gives them confidence to apply these skills to develop 'strategies for growth' of their employing companies, making them indispensable and sought after. In the future, they will be among those who set the rules and have conversations about what should and shouldn't be done in the way an organisation is structured and managed.