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Is the MBA dead?

According to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute on the Skill Shift: Automation and the Future of the Workforce, there are several key skill sets required by the workers of the future. The most relevant and important are creativity, entrepreneurship, leadership, advanced and basic digital skills. The organisation wants talent that’s as agile, adaptable and flexible as the technology that powers it. Employees set to be in most demand as the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) continues its steady march across thecountry and continent are those who have a willingness to learn, are open to new experiences, and can think creatively and outside of the boxes imposed by traditional education.

One form of traditional education that has been upheld as the pinnacle of achievement within the business world is the MBA, the Master’s of Business Administration. This degree is difficult to get into and challenging to complete. Many educational institutions make the hoops to admission high and the costs even higher. But is this much-vaunted degree still relevant today?

“The MBA has long been put forward as the crowbar that a person needs to pry open high-level career opportunities and there is no denying that it does allow for a deeper understanding of the business world, but the notion that the MBA helps you understand everything about business is false,” says Bryan Hattingh, founder of Cycan. “Many of the theories and frameworks taught in the MBA become quickly redundant in the current economic environment — at best, the MBA can be seen as an investment that may pay out at some point.”

A study released by the Harvard Business Review – The Best Performing CEOs in the World 2018 – revealed that 32 of the top 100 have MBAs. That’s a small percentage of people who sit in the high seats with MBA-powered credentials while, on the other hand, the demand for highly technical, digital individuals with the so-called softer skills of engagement, collaboration and empathy is rising, driven by 4IR and the dearth of the right skills in the market. Does the MBA even fit into this need?

The MBA is one of the most popular master’s degree programmes in the world, but despite this, many people don’t know what it is. The main purpose of an MBA degree is to teach students how to manage a company in every way, or in other words, to train qualified executives who have a global vision for business and can find innovative solutions to problems.

The MBA teaches individuals who want to become executives what pathways they should walk to achieve success, and it allows for those already immersed in business the opportunity to expand their business skill sets and advance further along the career ladder. In short, the MBA isn’t just a stuffy degree for suits, it is a relevant qualification for business. The question is whether or not these skills are still relevant to the businesses of tomorrow.

“Knowledge is important, but imagination is even more so because we need to invent, especially now in the digital age, because one of the ramifications of 4IR is that everything that is programmable will be programmed and done by a bot,” says Dr Puleng Mokhoalibe, head of Henley Business School Africa’s Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship initiative. “What will be left, the ultimate value of humanity, will be the ability to imagine and use intuition to create.”

The MBA, if structured and aligned in accordance with the existing market demand, has probably gone from being considered a dinosaur to becoming one of the most important qualifications that leaders can have — particularly if they want to be able to navigate the conundrum that is 4IR within the business context, and with an emphasis on innovation and creativity. The problem isn’t the MBA, it’s the existing education system that tends to teach the creativity out of students. The MBA does focus on business skills as the foundation of its name and its package, but it also focuses on the skills that make leaders.

“A lot of people think about creativity in the context of art and music or a play, but when we talk about creativity, we are talking about the big Creativity,” says Mokhoalibe. “Creativity where there is rigour and science mixed with imagination, intuition, all of which are leavened with logic so they exist as a whole rather than separately, as often happens in the education system as it compartmentalises into silos.”

Education needs to create holistic individuals rather than train individuals for jobs – 4IR is removing jobs at a rapid rate and replacing them with fresh, shiny ones that aren’t even in the lexicon yet. By training for potential and promise, degrees can unlock the skills required to combat the challenges inherent in 4IR. Business schools are leveraging the gap in graduate education, taking people beyond skills in economic theory and giving them the tools they need to develop systematic approaches to business and disciplines within it.

“The MBA was designed to help the company transform, become more productive and profitable and to add value to shareholders,” says Professor Raphael Mpofu, acting executive dean at Unisa’s Graduate School of Business Leadership. “Today, it remains relevant, because even though companies operate in an incredibly fast-paced market driven by flux and disruptive forces, business strategy must still lead to results.”

The institutions that offer MBAs are listening to the fluctuating trends in the market and they are customising their programmes to become increasingly inventive and aligned with the demands of 4IR. These are the MBAs that will evolve alongside technology, digital and skills demand and that will deliver value. Those locked into the traditional and staid methodologies that don’t embrace creativity and innovation are unlikely to deliver the benefits that either the business or the individual requires.

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Tamsin Oxford
Tamsin Oxford
I am a professional editor, journalist, blogger, wordsmith, social junkie and writer with over 19 years of experience in both magazine publishing and Public Relations.

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