How can we bridge the gap between what MBAs deliver and what employers want?

Written by
Aarti Bhasin

09 Aug 2016

09 Aug 2016 • by Aarti Bhasin

Our most recent research exposes skills gaps that are developing between what is being taught on MBA programmes, and what MBA students believe is required from them when they enter the workplace.

AMBA surveyed more than 2,000 of its members in a bid to define and address these skills gaps. Respondents came from 104 countries: 51% live and work in Western Europe; 54% had completed their MBA and the remainder are still studying. Among graduates, 82% are employed, 17% are not employed but looking for work and 2% are retired. The largest majority of respondents (18%) work for organisations with very high turnovers (more than £5 billion), and 14% work for organisations with small turnovers (less than £1million).

MBAs need modern business components

The study revealed 88% rated their MBA as either ‘excellent’ or ‘good’. But it revealed there is scope to include more contemporary business topics such as big data, sustainability and digital marketing in the MBA curricula – topics that MBA students and graduates believe will be in high demand from employers in the next three years. We asked which changes to their MBA curricula might have enhanced graduates’ career options. Almost three quarters (73%) said ‘greater networking opportunities with employers’ and 54% said ‘more contemporary business topics and ‘more real-life company based projects’.

In terms of the MBA topics respondents found very useful in the workplace, strategy (80%), business management (77%), finance & accounting (72%) and leadership skills (70%) came out top. 

What are employers looking for?

We also asked which contemporary topics employers would be seeking from MBA graduates in the coming three years and which were included in their MBAs. The top four were:

  1. Managing big data (90% cited this, but it is included in just 27% of MBA programmes)
  2. New technologies (87% cited this, but it is included in 32% of MBA programmes)
  3. Digital marketing (83% cited this, but it is included in 43% of MBA programmes)
  4. Stress management (80% cited this, but it is included in only 37% of MBA programmes).

While this highlights the skills gap, it offers business schools an opportunity to better equip their graduates by including more contemporary business topics in the curricula.

Insight from Unilever CEO

Speaking exclusively to AMBA, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilver backed up the finding. He said: ‘The moment you become a good leader is when you realise it’s not about yourself – investing in others, society and what I call the common good, is when you make an investment in yourself to prosper. The basic skills MBAs need are integrity and hard work – but our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world needs different leaders with a high level of awareness, engagement, humanity and humility.’

Employers & business schools must join forces

The good news is that research conducted by our strategic partner GMAC surveyed 748 employers and found that 84% planned to recruit MBAs in 2015 compared to 74% in 2014. And the same report found that the MBA was the most sought after post-graduate qualification in the opinion of the employers surveyed.

The onus, however, is on employers and business schools to join forces and build strong links with each other, to find areas of collaboration and ensure their network of talent is future proof and the content and design of MBA programmes across the world are relevant, forward thinking and thought leading.