Graduate management education

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Not business as usual

The world is changing rapidly, and neither the educational landscape nor the world of work are exempt from these shifts. One thing, however, has not changed: the MBA classroom is still the firepit where industry leaders are forged, where careers are launched to new heights, and where sustainable success is nurtured.

Career advancement is the prime motivator for pursuing graduate management education, but a report published by Dell Technologies and the Institute for the Future states that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 do not yet exist. For this reason, recruiters and industry leaders say that a shift towards lifelong learning means that the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and other mid-career postgraduate qualifications are more valuable now than ever before. 

An MBA is still widely regarded as a ticket to the C-suite and a sure way to fast-track career advancement for those aspiring to senior management or executive corporate positions. The qualification is also suitable for smaller, progressive companies and entrepreneurs. According to the University of South Africa, an MBA degree is specifically structured to turn a manager into a holistic leader capable of steering an organisation and its people to success.

More than a classroom 

The business leaders of today — and those of tomorrow — know that learning cannot be a once-off engagement; instead, success is an ongoing process of learning and unlearning, imagining and reimagining, creating and recreating, informed by ever-changing corporate trends and the fast-paced transformation of workplace needs. To stay abreast of these local and global shifts, adaptation is key. 

Impactful business schools have evolved their classrooms into problem-solving machines that churn out solutions for both industry and social challenges. These institutions help students develop innovative and long-range decision-making skills to mitigate risks and identify opportunities, all while learning to deal with rapid change and increasing complexities.

Spokesperson for the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), Ishmael Mnisi, agrees that institutions of higher learning have a responsibility to do more than just equip their students with competencies: “They should not only provide the knowledge and skills required by the economy, but should contribute towards the development of thinking citizens who can function effectively, creatively and ethically as a part of a democratic society, and who can participate fully in its political, social and cultural life.” 

The pandemic effect

The Covid-19 pandemic forced many people to reevaluate the situations they found themselves in and their future prospects as they sought to cement their relevance and secure their spot in the workplace of the future. It forced mid-career professionals to explore new directions and new roles. It also inspired some professionals to take advantage of the changes and to set their sights on advancement within the spaces they already occupy, propelling their careers to new heights. 

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) is an international non-profit organisation of business schools that serves academic institutions and prospective graduate management education students. The 2021 GMAC Corporate Recruiter Survey found that corporate recruiters project a robust demand for business school graduates, with nine out of 10 recruiters expecting this demand to increase or remain stable in the next five years. 

The report also states that hiring projections have rebounded, with the proportion of recruiters who planned to hire MBAs in 2021 (91%) returning to the same level as pre-pandemic 2020 (92%). The study also found that the MBA salary premium has held steady at the pre-pandemic levels, with MBA graduates earning 77% more than those with a bachelor’s degree, and 53% higher than those hired directly from industry. According to the report, “these salary premiums could help an MBA graduate earn $3-million more than someone only holding a bachelor’s degree”. 

Despite the changes that the pandemic brought, the MBA remains known as a remarkably resilient academic beast, continuing to draw the cream of the crop since it was first offered at Harvard University more than a century ago. 
— Jamaine Krige

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A silver lining to the Covid cloud

Yorika Kesari always suspected that she would end up pursuing an MBA degree — she did not know that it would take a global pandemic to spur her into action. As hard as Covid-19 and its impact has been on the client success manager, who works in the customer experience (CX) space at a product software company, it also gave her valuable insight into her professional goals. 

Kesari believes that there is value and merit to gaining work experience before embarking on a postgraduate business qualification. “Experienced people often find it easier to apply what they have learnt in a way that can be used in the workplace,” she explains. “Experience also makes it possible to add a meaningful real-world perspective to classroom discussions.” 

Client success manager Yorika Kesari says that the pandemic revealed the need for agile and adaptable leaders, who can step up and work well in a crisis

But, says the 35-year-old MBA student, if the global health crisis has taught her anything, it is that sometimes the best time is the present, and sometimes one needs to step up and become the leader you need: “The pandemic showed us the need for  agile and adaptable leaders who can step up and work well in a crisis, and fortunately Covid-19 had a positive impact on my life, forcing me out of my comfort zone and allowing me the opportunity to take the leap and further my education.” 

Despite her fears, she decided to apply for her dream qualification, spurred on by her family and partner at the time, and equipped with the self-development and interpersonal skills that she had been working on mastering with her mentor and private coach. “Once I pushed past those initial steps, I then had no doubt that this was what I wanted — and needed — to do,” she explains.

It has not been an easy journey, but Kesari is steadfast and does not doubt her choice: “An MBA teaches one how to work with a diverse range of people, cultures and working styles, while gaining a better understanding of career opportunities. I’m developing skills that immediately rid me of previous limitations and teach me things I never knew existed.” 

One valuable lesson has been the importance of peer support and networking. “I didn’t understand it at first, and I underestimated how important and supportive my cohort would be; I tried to research and study by myself,” she explains. “I was drowning with the workload and felt overwhelmed. It wasn’t until I started networking with fellow colleagues that we began to close the knowledge gap and build on each others’ experiences.” Fortunately, she adds, her group is a  team-oriented one, and each person helps keep the other organised, focused, motivated and accountable. “Above all,” she adds, “we keep each other sane.” 

She knows that a commitment to lifelong learning is non-negotiable for those aspiring to leadership: “Education is an important part of success in today’s business world; it is very competitive out there and the more educated you are, the more likely you are to get a good job. An MBA degree is prestigious and accepted all over the world, and provides an array of opportunities, both locally and internationally. It also prepares students to take on leadership roles beyond business.”  

Kesari says this is especially true of a South African MBA. “We gain a unique and hands-on experience with a strong focus on leadership and sustainability, and an amazing opportunity to tailor our degrees toward the improvement of the African economy,” she explains. “An MBA is the best qualification for those who understand and revel in the pleasure of working with others: it is supportive of human-centred leadership, which is a key trend and a focus globally in recent years.” 

She is optimistic about her prospects after graduating, and the impact she strives towards going forward: “This programme allows me the opportunity to explore the latest international business trends, apply brand new management tools and techniques, and challenge myself and the status quo to improve business, teams and collaboration. The MBA is the best way for me to prepare for a changing business environment, and the skills I am developing are also the most potent tools to adapt to the inevitable changes in the way industries, markets and people do business. As an MBA student, I also have access to great networking opportunities, and I know these connections will serve me going forward.” 

Perhaps most exciting, says Kesari, is the new insight she gained into her work and the opportunities that lie ahead: “The MBA has taught me that my career isn’t a ladder; instead it is a jungle gym, where I can move between different roles in all directions, and challenge myself by taking on new challenging projects with confidence and a sense of adventure.” — Jamaine Krige

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Climbing the ladder of success

A professional journey does not have to be linear, says Nashreen Arnachellam. With a BSc in Health Sciences she first went to work in the UK as a fitness instructor. Soon after returning to South Africa, however, the Sport Science major found herself working as a customer relationship manager. She knew it was time to step out of her comfort zone when she found herself falling into a sense of complacency; she decided to enrol for an MBA and return to the classroom after more than 15 years. 

Nashreen Arnachellam says studying for an MBA gave her the opportunity to build a lifetime network of like-minded people, from alumni to colleagues to lecturers, whom she knows will continue to help shape her life

She failed the first MBA exam that she wrote, but obtained a distinction on the rewrite. “Getting back on the horse took time and resilience … it taught me to keep my head in the game.” Now, Arnachellam is a corporate head of business development and the managing director of her own company, as well as sitting on a board where she is not only the first black female director, but also the first person under the age of 35 to ever be appointed. 

Graduating with an MBA has been a huge personal achievement: “It has provided professional credibility and personal confidence, and because of what we were exposed to, I learnt to listen to learn instead of listening to respond. Probably more valuable than the theory, however, was the opportunity to build a lifetime network of like-minded people, from alumni to colleagues to lecturers, who I know will continue to help shape my life through the various stages of my career. I have learnt to appreciate the power of mentorship and guidance, the power of believing in myself and in those around me, and in the power of people.”

It has also helped her realise that there is strength in diversity. She says she remembers going to sit at a table on orientation day and realising that she was the only woman in the group: “I chose to remain at that table. Why? Because my self-worth as a black female has only ever enhanced my ability, confidence and motivation.Through this MBA journey, this group became a team — not identified by gender, race, age or social background, but instead strengthened by our diversity, accomplishments and shared passions and visions for the future. Today some of these men are my closest friends, my greatest motivators and my trusted sounding boards. This is what a good MBA programme encourages: a culture of collaboration and cohesion.” — Jamaine Krige

Advice for success

Never underestimate the impact that this three-letter qualification can have on your life. “The credibility and knowledge it represents has accelerated my career and given me the confidence to strive towards a clear purpose and career path.” 

Her formula to succeed is: 

Be humble – Know that you are where you are because someone believed in you. Share the same belief in the next person. Genuinely believe that you will always be teachable. Be hungry for knowledge and always willing to share that knowledge with anyone willing to receive.

Be grateful – In your quest for success, remember to stop and take stock of everything that you have already achieved. Show gratitude to those who have supported you and those who continue to support you.

Respect all – Respect yourself and respect others. Any act of kindness, no matter how inconsequential it may seem, means something to someone.

Choose your people – Surround yourself with people who inspire you to be a better version of yourself. Be the person who inspires others to be a better version of themselves.

Stay true to what you believe – Honesty and integrity are the backbone of a nation on a journey to recovery and transformation.

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The value of an MBA

Postgraduate studies are expensive, time-consuming and taxing, so is an MBA really worth the time, money and effort? The answer, according to industry experts, depends on your expectations, motivations and end-goals. While a postgraduate qualification is not the alpha and omega of career advancement, senior recruitment specialist Cobie Hönicke says an MBA remains a prestigious qualification that is in high demand. 

Senior recruitment specialist Cobie Hönicke says the MBA is still in demand

She says this is because an MBA hones many of the critical skills that companies seek when hiring executives or top management, such as people management skills and strategic leadership, the ability to communicate clearly at all levels, and analytical and critical thinking that includes thought leadership. 

Business school graduates should walk out of the classroom equipped for the workplace of the future, which will demand problem-solving, critical thinking and questioning the status quo. The business leaders of tomorrow will need innovative and strategic thinking that translates into commercial benefits, with strong technical and subject matter knowledge, decision-making skills and a business-focused planning mindset. 

An MBA qualification also shows prospective employers something about the type of applicant before them: “These candidates bring overall commercial and business acumen, but there is also a complexity level of an MBA that stretches the person doing it, as many are working and studying simultaneously. The successful completion of an MBA adds academic gravitas and reflects resilience and commitment due to the nature of the qualification.” 

When deciding to pursue a further education, she suggests contacting a professional who can assist with assessment, guidance and coaching. She says it is never too late to enrol for an MBA, but adds that most people benefit from having some work experience when embarking on postgraduate management studies. “I would say seven to 10 years of gaining work experience and understanding the world of work and business is enough, and will assist the student in analysing and applying real work and business challenges, and solving related problems.”
— Jamaine Krige

How to market your new qualification

Senior recruitment specialist Cobie Hönicke shares some tips on how MBA graduates can market themselves, their new qualification and its associated skills: 

“One of the benefits of an MBA is the alumni network and networking aspect of the actual qualification — use these first! Connect with everyone, from your fellow students to your former lecturers. These are usually more successful avenues than ‘cold’ self-marketing. Sign up for membership at related associations. I cannot stress this enough: Networking, networking and more networking is key! Take to sites like LinkedIn or Medium to publish thought leadership articles and establish yourself as an industry expert and business leader.”

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The Regenesys differentiator

Regenesys Business School, established in 1998, and located in the heart of South Africa’s centre of commerce — Sandton, Johannesburg — has developed into a truly global, modern, and dynamic academic hub. The academic group has grown to now include the schools of Public Management, Banking, and Security Solutions. 

Regenesys believes that education is not a privilege, but a right — a right that should be available to all students, not only in South Africa, but the world over. Founder and Chairperson, Dr Marko Saravanja, says: “The purpose of Regenesys is to help individuals and organisations achieve their dreams by awakening their potential.”

Regenesys Business School is in a position to meet the needs of students from any academic background, whether they are beginning their academic journey, or are looking to further their education and training. 

In addition to short courses, higher certificates and diplomas, the school offers bachelor’s and postgraduate degrees, right up to doctorate level. 

The Regenesys Master of Business Administration (MBA) is internationally accredited, and is recognised as one of their most coveted degrees. An MBA degree is the prime business qualification anywhere in the world. Regenesys recently launched the MBA for the Creative Industry, through which they aim to fuse the worlds of the creative and the commercial, revolutionising these spheres of operation.

Most programmes can be undertaken online, in person, or via a blended model, allowing students to study at a rate that is comfortable to them. 

An alumni network can play a critical role in growing a graduate’s career once they have completed their studies. With access to an incredibly sought-after network, which comprises of over 150 000 Regenesys alumni — many of whom have gone on to hold positions in multinational companies — our graduates are ideally connected and empowered to not only gather career momentum, but career altitude too. 

While many business schools are in a position to cater to the purely academic needs of students, at Regenesys, we go a step further, and believe in developing our students not only intellectually, but on a holistic level as well. “This,” says Saravanja, “is the Regenesys differentiator: our holistic approach to education. We help our students to break their fears, change their self-limiting beliefs and achieve greatness by awakening their potential. We do this by providing high-quality business, management and leadership development programmes that develop individuals holistically: intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically.”

The Regenesys differentiator means that our graduates stand out among others, because qualifications offered by Regenesys Business School promote integrative, innovative thinking that helps students draw on their emotional and spiritual intelligence as much as their intellect.

“Through our blend of academic diligence, collaboration, holistic growth, international diversity and scholastic excellence, our purpose is to make our world a better place by developing conscious leaders and managers. As our students’ academic partner, as Regenesys, we seek to awaken each graduate’s potential so that they may become capable of achieving their dreams and aspirations,” says Saravanja. 

— This content was supplied by Regenesys

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Take a leap in your career with Wits Business School

The emergence of the coronavirus in 2019 started as a health crisis. This soon changed after the number of infected persons spiralled out of control and governments around the world began to implement various restrictions. This had a massive impact on people’s movement and the production capabilities of different industries.

It became clear early on in 2020 that the Covid-19 pandemic was more than a healthcare crisis — it was now a jobs crisis, a trade crisis, a crisis of organisational function and adaptability, and so much more.

Charisse Drobis, head of career management services at Wits Business School, says the labour environment is in need of employees who can address the complex difficulties that employers are facing, and leaders who can come up with innovative solutions

As expected, global economies — both developed and developing — faced many challenges. The evolution of the workplace, coupled with the needs of the employer and the employee, was one of the issues that took centre stage.

One of the world’s largest economies, the US, found itself undergoing mass withdrawal from the workforce, a phenomenon that Professor Anthony Klotz first coined as the “Great Resignation” in 2021.

According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics’ Job Opening and Labour Turnover report, 4.5 million Americans resigned from their jobs in March 2022, citing burnout and Covid-19-related concerns, among others.

At home, South Africa faced a similar problem in that, while in the US workers were leaving the labour market voluntarily, South African workers were being forced out of the labour market as industries struggled to retain employees due to the tough economic conditions, spurring record unemployment numbers. In the fourth quarter of 2021, the unemployment rate rose to 35.3% — a record high.

Faced with the reality of a labour market that hangs in the balance, understanding how to future-proof your career and remain in touch with and attractive to the changing jobs market is paramount, especially if you are looking to take up a new role.

Equipping yourself first

According to Charisse Drobis, the head of career management services at Wits Business School (WBS), the Covid-19 pandemic has not only changed the skills employees need to embody in the workplace, but it has also effected a change in the traits employees need to adopt. In the current labour environment, employees are expected to be resilient, persevering and agile.

Wits Business School graduates are highly sought after by top employers, and the fact that the school boasts over 200 employer partners means that graduates have access to opportunities across a wide variety of sectors.

According to Drobis, the somewhat bruised labour environment is now in desperate need of employees who can address the complex difficulties that employers are facing. These employees need to have a growth mindset that will help industries move out of the Covid-19 slump and on to the next level. They need to see challenges as learning opportunities and be eager to solve them.

“I think companies are also looking for people with an optimistic, entrepreneurial attitude and that goes with a growth mindset. They are looking for people who want to make things happen,” she says.

“They need people who look at the country as an opportunity landscape rather than one of shrinking options, because there are huge opportunities still to be had in this country and on this continent. It just requires somebody who is more entrepreneurial, receptive, open-minded, curious — and who wants to learn, understand and grow,” she says.

Drobis says employees looking to stay ahead of the curve and protect their careers against future unknowns need to be willing to let go of what they know and learn afresh. She adds that this pursuit of fresh knowledge needs to be done while placing a core focus on modernisation and digitalisation in efforts to improve efficiency.

Purpose-led growth

As a leading research institution that is part of one of the highest-ranked universities on the continent, WBS is committed to offering its students high-quality academic curricula and management programmes to help future-proof the careers of tomorrow’s leaders.

Boasting 16 accredited generalist and specialist postgraduate programmes, the school offers a wide range of academic programmes, at both postgraduate diploma and degree level that are designed to help students progress to the next level of their careers.

The MBA is still relevant

The relevancy of the MBA qualification cannot be overstated, according to Drobis. In a post-Covid-19 world, companies require a different type of leader — one who thinks critically and who comes up with innovative solutions, in anticipation of future challenges that are yet to arise.

“The MBA programme provides multiple lenses that one can view any problems through and what that does is present a fully rounded individual,” Drobis says.

The WBS MBA programme, offering its distinctive “Leadership Quest”, gives students a multidisciplinary view on solving problems from different perspectives.

Students who take on the programme are required to interrogate the type of leader they want to become. Therefore, Drobis recommends that aspirant MBA students acquire experience in the workplace first before taking that leap in order to see a good return on investment. It is tailored for people who have solid, on-the-job experience but wish to take the leap to a more strategic position.

“Experience shows us not just what we know, but it helps us to understand the gaps in our knowledge, to understand what it is we need to learn and what it is we want to do with that knowledge,” she says.

Staying ahead

To remain competitive in the evolving labour market, Drobis advises people to remind themselves that nothing is certain. If the past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic have taught us anything, it is that, she comments.

“It is about being willing to move out of one’s comfort zone and embrace the unknown. It’s that willingness to put oneself “out there” and learn. If one has the willingness to engage, and fosters an open-minded receptiveness to learning, then one will be able to engage in continuous cycles of change in work,” she says.

With sustainability taking centre stage in the business environment, companies are being forced to shift away from a profit-chasing mentality toward an environmentally sustainable way of working.

At the same time, workers are developing more awareness about why they do the work they do and the impacts of their work on society.

The importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance, anchored in purpose, is why Drobis recommends not losing sight of your “why”, to practice self-care and remain grounded so as to avoid a sense of overwhelm.

“Part of future-proofing is taking care of oneself, being healthy and practising mindfulness. Because in this unbelievably complex, fraught, changeable, and disrupting world, at the end of the day, if one can keep oneself healthy — and I’m talking about emotional, spiritual, psychological and physical wellbeing — that will enable one to not only navigate disruption but to embrace opportunity.”

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Corporate conscience

The businesses of the future will thrive at the intersection where profit and purpose meet around shared prosperity, according to Michele Sohn, co-founder of Confluence Digital Research, as well as Ellen Grace, 10MillionMakers and Plant-plant. She says a culture of ethics and ethical business behaviour is vital for business success. 

Sohn’s MBA research report won the Pfizer Award for the best research report in the field of marketing, and is focused on ethical decision making: “It was through my thesis on ethical consumerism that I realised that research was my true calling. Understanding why people make decisions (and how to nudge them to better outcomes) is fascinating. I’m now tired of helping companies sell things that people don’t really need, and more interested in helping companies and consumers align to create a kinder kind of capitalism, where profit and purpose meet around shared prosperity.” 

Michele Sohn, co-founder of Confluence Digital Research, as well as Ellen Grace, 10MillionMakers and Plant-plant, studied for her MBA when she was 30. Since then, she’s been chasing that sweet spot in business where profit and purpose meet

She says her MBA gave her the confidence she needed to go forward and develop an impact investment approach that takes township food to the global markets. “The team of women I’m working with exist outside the structures of cold corporate,” she says, adding that this is not a bad thing at all. “We play by different, kinder, more feminine rules, where we make decisions consensually and power is horizontal, based on merit, not position.” 

She was 30 when she decided to do her MBA through Wits Business School. “I’d sold my first company — one that a friend and I had started fresh out of university — so I had the capital to invest in myself, and felt I needed to legitimise my place at the boardroom table,” she explains. “The MBA consolidated my knowledge and reassured me that many of the decisions that I’d intuitively come to were right on track.”

It was no surprise that she thrived in her favourite subjects: strategy and marketing.  “Strangely enough, I thrived on Financial Management, but not so much on Corporate Finance,” she laughs. “It was one of the most fulfilling and intense times of my life.” 

The time was made extra special by the fact that she could completely immerse herself in studies without worrying about the pressures of work. After all, she says, the pressures of balancing family life were more than enough! “It also taught me that there can be blood on the walls when people feel very passionate about ideas — our syndicate discussions were sometimes rather heated — but we made it through alive, and formed very strong bonds in the process.” 

Since graduating, Sohn has been chasing that sweet spot in business where profit and purpose meet. When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in 2020, she co-founded the public benefit organisation Ten Million Makers, which was behind the #10MillionMasks campaign that swept South Africa. The campaign inspired and enabled communities to make cloth face masks and donate them where they were needed most. At the time, more than 2 000 women made around 320 000 masks. 

Today, home sewers who have no other source of income make and sell masks through the organisation. Many of these are donated to the more than 18-million South Africans who cannot afford a mask. “When you buy a mask from the 10MillionMask store, you not only keep a small business alive — you also help us to get a mask to someone who needs it, but can’t afford to buy it.”
— Jamaine Krige

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Looking forward: Future proofing the MBA

“The most reliable way to predict the future is to create it.” This quote from Abraham Lincoln is used at the start of the Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC) Future of Graduate Management Education Report 2022. “These words are as true today as they ever have been and in the face of so much recent change, the response from the business world saw some organisations flourish and others fall,” the report reads. “As stalwart academic institutions, business schools were not exempt from this phenomenon.” 

The report raises important questions around how the industry should respond, and the plans that need to be put in place to achieve these goals.

GMAC asked the deans of prominent business schools in Europe to predict what the future will hold for graduate management education and the work needed to stay relevant and functional to society at large. Five key themes emerged: 

Technology and digitisation

The increased use of technology, largely accelerated by the pandemic, calls for a rethink of the pedagogy employed at business schools and forces them to reevaluate  what classrooms, campuses and user experiences should look like. A shift towards remote work and online learning also presents new opportunities for both students and institutions. 

Social corporate responsibility 

It is of vital importance that business schools interweave aspects of ethics, corporate social responsibility and sustainability into the whole curriculum. In addition to this, however, business schools should also offer specialist programmes on these topics as they become more relevant and important to the way business is conducted.

Content

Business schools must move out of the silos of traditional teaching and follow an interdisciplinary approach with appropriate weighting to subjects such as analytics, data and innovation. Content must be adapted regularly to ensure that students are kept up to date on the latest global trends and industry best practice. 

Learning journeys 

The report also found that a new generation of learners want shorter, more flexible, personalised education. This will require business schools to reconsider their programme offerings — both in terms of content and in structure — in order to take students on the learning journey they need.

Relevance

To stay relevant, business schools must define their purpose and strategy to differentiate themselves in a landscape where the whole world is your market.

Monitoring other trends 

With all these opportunities for growth in the future, it is important for people with MBAs and other postgraduate business degrees to look into specific areas that are set to thrive in the future. Green companies, digital and tech-driven businesses and start-ups are business areas that are set to grow exponentially within the next few years. 

While it might not be necessary for a business leader or executive to understand the ins and outs of every technological process, they should have a sound understanding in the technologies being used or sold, and should be well versed in how to manage the people who do understand the intricacies. 

Organisations are actively seeking out professionals from a wide array of industries and sectors who also have the skills and expertise associated with an MBA; candidates with cross-functional experience or hybrid profiles. An MBA graduate with a strong tech background will be sought after to ease businesses in their transition to digital, while someone with a health background and a business degree is an asset during a global pandemic. 

These are some of the professional spaces that business graduates can set their sights on to ensure that they stay ahead of the talent curve and future-proof their careers. — Wessel Krige

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The business of creativity

The arts and culture space has more to offer than just social cohesion and community upliftment, and should be taken seriously as a professional industry and a business sector that provides opportunities for serious economic growth and development. This is according to visual artist, entrepreneur and consultant Mariapaola McGurk. She completed her MBA in 2019 and now sees the world through a different lens. 

Visual artist, entrepreneur and consultant Mariapaola McGurk says the creative economy can fundamentally benefit economic development, youth unemployment, inequalities and other social problems in South Africa

She first decided to enrol for the degree while running a creative social company in Johannesburg. “We had grown much larger than I had anticipated; we were doing well, winning tenders and taking on large corporate clients, focusing on our social impact while still generating an income.” She realised that she needed to gain more knowledge about the administrative and management aspect of the business. “Because I had my honours degree, it made sense to start looking at master’s level qualifications.” 

While working as a curator for the University of Johannesburg’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture Gallery, McGurk was often struck by the fact that so few people within arts and culture spaces had a solid knowledge of business. “In order for the creative economy of South Africa to be taken more seriously by corporates, government and society at large, I realised we need more people who can speak the language of business, and one of my objectives was to start learning the lingo.” She says her MBA is a powerful tool to explore the creative economy and the space she works in, in a new way. 

McGurk was the only person from the arts and culture sector in her cohort of 60 people, and the only entrepreneur. Pursuing an MBA was no mean feat while running a company and mothering three small children; it took her two-and-a-half years to complete her degree. But, she says, her early mornings and late nights were not in vain. “Doing an MBA has changed my approach to problem solving, and that has been such an asset in both my personal and professional life.”

Her critical thinking has shifted and she has learned to identify challenges as opportunities: “While we take ourselves very seriously and view our services as professional offerings within the sector, the creative economy is not taken very seriously by others, and this is frustrating because with my newfound knowledge I want to be able to contribute more and showcase the role we can play in economic development; but these critical opportunities and economy-focused strategies do not exist within our sector. 

“Even the Department of Arts and Culture focuses on the creative economy as a community upliftment sector that only offers cultural engagements and social cohesion, not realising how it can fundamentally benefit economic development, youth unemployment, inequalities and other social problems in South Africa.” 

Professionals who operate in creative spaces also have something to teach the world of business, she says. “In the art sector, if you don’t stand independently, if you don’t have a voice, if you don’t have an opinion, then you are invisible.” Artists work at fostering a unique identity and an authentic engagement with their work: “People within the arts and culture sector are very proud of their differences, and diversity is something that we hold very dear, while within corporate and government spaces there is a strong push towards conformity. 

“During my studies I realised that the creative economy has something to offer society that I hadn’t been aware of before: our power of creative thinking, our absolute willingness to fail and try again, our curiosity and ability to explore … the list goes on. So many of these traits that we take for granted are not the norm in other sectors.” — Jamaine Krige

Entrepreneurship: Be your own boss

The decision to set up shop and step into self-employment is a risky one, but it also offers untold rewards. Education and training programmes that foster the entrepreneurial spirit and equip candidates with the skills needed to succeed can be extremely beneficial in preparing aspiring business creators for the realities of running their own enterprises. 

The theoretical and practical knowledge gained in graduate management programmes such as the MBA can prove invaluable to those who want to pursue their independence with confidence, clarity and peace of mind. These programmes equip graduates with the skills to evaluate project development and feasibility, and address challenges that can derail a fledgling business before they materialise. 

Studies have found entrepreneurship training to have a direct impact on business success. One study found that people who had some entrepreneurship-oriented education had significantly higher entrepreneurial alertness and efficacy levels when compared to those who did not. The study also found that entrepreneurship training was effective in promoting cognitive and motivational outcomes, which resulted in more successful start-ups.

For those wanting to take the leap, there should be an increased focus on honing these skills: trainability, a learning mindset, proactivity, writing and communication, problem-solving, perseverance and resilience. Graduate and postgraduate courses like an MBA can help individuals develop into self-sufficient and innovative business leaders who, in turn, can create employment opportunities for others while sustaining and growing a business. 

Part-time or online classes are available for mid-career professionals who do not have the luxury of full-time or in-person studies. Many find that online or hybrid-learning options suit their unique needs and contexts — especially those who are still employed, while in the business development and preparation stage of their own project. E-learning options allow candidates to access course materials and work through the learning materials at their own pace, without being bound to specific class times or institutional schedules. 

These online options also allow prospective students bespoke learning opportunities, where they can focus on skill sets or training modules that serve their specific needs. These short courses can be accessed as stand-alone modules or as part of a larger curriculum. Timely and relevant topics can be accessed as part of a commitment to lifelong learning, and can include skills such as crisis management, digital transformation, leadership, commercial negotiation and project management.

Is formal training necessary? 

While not a guarantee of success, experts and business leaders agree that entrepreneurial training and the mindset that accompanies it can make or break a new venture. Entrepreneurship training provides individuals with the aptitude to identify business opportunities, while building self‐esteem, creating knowledge and developing the skills needed to act on that knowledge. Lessons on chance identification, concept commercialisation, resource management and business speculation initiation can help start-ups realise opportunities that might otherwise have passed them by. 

An entrepreneurially-focused education also provides a vast array of skills that extend far beyond managing yourself and others — it also provides valuable insight that can serve professionals, even if they continue working as employees within a larger corporate structure. In addition, it helps individuals approach problem solving and critical thinking with a new mindset. 

In a country like South Africa, where the unemployment rate is more than 35%, entrepreneurship is an invaluable tool in the push for job creation and overall national and regional economic growth and development. 
— Wessel Krige

An overview of South African self-starters

Entrepreneurship promotes the innovation needed to exploit new opportunities, enhance productivity and create employment, while also addressing societal challenges. In short, it is an engine of economic growth. The promotion of entrepreneurship will be central to restoring the economy damaged by the pandemic.

The UK-based Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) has been carrying out research on entrepreneurship ecosystems around the world since 1999. Their 2020 report found South Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to be most challenging in the sample of participating economies, with little sign of improvement from previous years. In 2019, South Africa ranked 49th out of 54 economies on GEM’s National Entrepreneurship Context Index, ahead of only Croatia, Guatemala, Paraguay, Puerto Rico and Iran. This index provides a single composite number that represents the average state and quality of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in a country and compares it to those of other economies.

The report, titled Igniting startups for economic growth and social change, aimed to answer the question: How do we ensure that more entrepreneurs flourish in South Africa? It found that solutions include strengthening and aligning learning, mentorship and support for entrepreneurs. It will also be necessary to provide entrepreneurial education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the digital economy.

The study found that societal values regarding entrepreneurship are on the rise; almost 80% of people think that entrepreneurship is a good career choice, with a high status. The number of individuals who believe that there are good entrepreneurial opportunities in South Africa has also dramatically increased, and more people believe that they possess the necessary skills and capabilities to start a business venture. 

According to the 2019 findings before the pandemic started, only 11.9% of respondents had entrepreneurial intentions; this means that one in every eight South Africans could be considered a latent entrepreneur who intends to start a business within the next three years. In the rest of Africa, this number sits at 40%. 

The report also found clear evidence of purpose-driven entrepreneurship taking hold at a grassroots level — an encouraging sign of collective will for future business sustainability.

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Why you should consider IMM Graduate School 
(if you aren’t already)

IMM Graduate School is an established, accredited and leading online distance learning institution, with degrees, diplomas and certificates in Marketing and Supply Chain Management. 

Choosing a tertiary education provider that suits your academic goals, time constraints, budget and mindset can be challenging. Catapulted by the past two years, online distance learning has become necessary, convenient and celebrated.

Founded over half a century ago as a distance learning institution, the IMM Graduate School has the experience to offer a comprehensive and convenient academic experience. Fully aware of the challenges involved in studying remotely, the IMM Graduate School commits to meeting the academic, practical and emotional needs of students. A dedicated support system not only helps students survive but more importantly thrive, while achieving their academic goals. It may be remote, but no IMM Graduate School student will ever feel as if they’re on their academic journey alone. 

The IMM Graduate School is a leader in its academic offering, which is all about graduating students with qualifications that are Recognised, skills that are Relevant and who feel Ready to master their futures.

Recognised

An IMM Graduate School qualification is recognised, respected and, often, asked for by name among recruiters. Technically, this means the IMM Graduate School is registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) as a Private Higher Institution under the Higher Education Act, 1997. Its programmes are quality assured by the South African Council on Higher Education (CHE). All IMM Graduate School qualifications are registered with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). 

For those with global ambitions, most other countries recognise South African qualifications that are registered by SAQA and evaluate them according to their own education system. The IMM Graduate School has graduated more than 30 000 students, many of whom hold key positions, both locally and internationally.

Relevant

An academic qualification should equip you for a successful career. Of course, experiential learning never ends, but IMM Graduate School qualifications are based on best practice across disciplines to ensure relevance now. An advisory board of industry experts ensures content and activities in curricula are academically sound, industry-relevant and future-focused. Qualifications include the application of theory as well as learning theory, so that students are actually prepared for an ever-changing world.

Ready

The IMM Graduate School prides itself on producing students who are ready and feel ready to enter the world of work. These students are critical thinkers, creative in their approach to solving problems and are dedicated to building a successful future. The IMM Graduate School offers ongoing professional development activities, online short courses for practical skills development, access to speaker and industry networking events, and the opportunity for students to build a portfolio that demonstrates their skills and knowledge. The aim is personal maturation, continued development and the fostering of confidence, resilience and readiness.

Postgraduate qualifications

IMM Graduate School offers the following postgraduate programmes:

  • (BCom) Honours in Supply Chain Management
  • (BPhil) Honours in Marketing Management
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing Management
  • The school also offers a Master of Philosophy in Marketing

Please visit our website for programme details and entry requirements

Your future success lies in your hands. The IMM Graduate School is a centre of excellence. Mid-year registrations are open. Is it for you? 

Join us for a Postgraduate Virtual Information Evening on 23 June at 6pm to learn more, uncover a possibility, launch or change your career. Book your space at www.imm.az.za

IMM Graduate School
Be recognised. Be relevant. Be ready.
imm.ac.za

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Research is key

There are many challenges inherent to returning to the classroom after years of not studying, and mid-career professionals may have to reacquaint themselves with education systems and resources that have undergone drastic changes in recent years. Mia Jansen van Rensburg is an academic research consultant and a PhD candidate who says one of the most significant obstacles faced by this group of students is an unfamiliarity with the fundamental mechanics of research and with navigating academic library systems. 

Mia Jansen van Rensburg, academic research consultant and PhD candidate, says there are countless tools and technologies to assist students with academic research, but many did not exist a few years ago

This problem, however, is not just limited to more mature postgraduate students or students who return to academia after time in the workforce: “Younger students are also often caught sleeping when it comes to library orientation, and then they end up relying on really blunt tools like Google Scholar, instead of making full use of the resources their library has on offer,” she explains. 

She says navigating online databases for journal articles is actually a lot more complicated than people imagine. “There are hundreds of aggregators and there are thousands of accredited journals that you have access to, and to get the most from your studies you need to make use of these,” she says. 

In addition, there are also countless tools to assist students with academic research, many of which did not exist a few years ago: “If someone last set foot on campus 20 — or even five — years ago, it is very likely that they are unfamiliar with using these technologies, or have never encountered them before. Making use of referencing tools like Mendeley and Zotero and BibTeX; they are part of what it means to do research now, and even younger students are often not fully aware of the tools available to them.” 

While library orientations are not always mandatory, Jansen van Rensburg urges all students to make an effort to attend an introductory session. “Getting to the fundamentals of the technical system, understanding how it works and what it offers and how to make use of it, is genuinely one of the hardest aspects of research for new students or those attending after an academic hiatus,” she explains. 

She says research also often requires that students must learn a new way of thinking, not only about their research topic, but also about how they pursue it and how they engage with learning. Afterall, a Master’s or Doctoral thesis is not the same as undergraduate course work, and cannot be approached in the same way. “Innovative thinking and a sense of unlearning and relearning is needed,” she says. It also requires independence and self-discipline. “For students who have only ever been involved in coursework or who are returning to study after time in a corporate structure, the research process may pose a steep learning curve.” 

Fortunately, she says, support exists: “One way to address these challenges is to make use of as many of the vast resources your university or business school has available for postgraduate researchers. Most institutions have postgraduate centres that offer frequent seminars, not only on topics like basic research philosophy or basic research methodology, but also on how to use complicated statistical analysis tools and other technologies that may not have existed in the past. The problem is that many students don’t make proper use of or maximise the benefits that postgraduate development centres or seminars offer.” — Jamaine Krige

Research advice for postgrads

Mia Jansen van Rensburg is a PhD candidate and an academic research consultant. She shared her advice and research tips with the Mail & Guardian

Choose your research topic carefully 

A research topic should be relevant to and in line with your degree specialisation, and should advance your career goals. Your research should help shape you into the professional you aspire to be, and add value to your context and your industry. This is the opportunity to feed into your goals for career advancement and help establish you as an expert in your field. Do preliminary research to establish the scope and feasibility of your research problem, and ensure that your focus is neither too broad nor too narrow.  Your research should seek to address a real-world business problem and add to the existing knowledge base. 

Maintain your focus

A research paper usually has stated objectives or a clear research question that is being addressed: do not deviate from this. This question usually forms a part of your research proposal, so by the time it comes to writing your paper, you should have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve. Maintain your focus, be clear and concise, and remember your audience — this is an academic paper, not a corporate report. 

Establish a productive student-supervisor relationship

Start off by establishing a shared set of expectations regarding deadlines, feedback turnaround time, and meeting schedules. Communicate clearly and regularly. This is especially important if you are falling behind with work or unable to keep up with set deadlines. Life happens, but be transparent about your progress and your challenges, and raise any issues sooner rather than later. 

You have a responsibility to your research and your supervisor, but they also have a responsibility to you. If your supervisor has consistently failed to meet their obligations or defaulted on agreed upon deliverables, raise it with them. It is best to resolve any grievances or conflict directly and amicably with your supervisor, but if you fail to solve the problem, consider lodging an official complaint. In this worst-case scenario, make sure you follow your institution’s student grievance procedure.

Make the most of what your institution has to offer

Many institutions offer elective seminars for postgraduate students that speak directly to research methodologies, research tools, assistive software, emerging trends and more. Most universities also have a writing centre — usually free and confidential, with a variety of options for students and faculty members who want to improve their writing skills. Many institutions also offer students free or heavily discounted subscriptions for expensive software and research tools such as Word365 or Atlas.ti. 

Learn the ins and outs of the library

This is especially valuable for older students or students who have little experience with research. Your institution’s library will give you access to hundreds of online databases and thousands of accredited, peer-reviewed journals. Modern library systems are complicated and knowing how to navigate them is an extremely important skill. Do not skip the library orientation session!

Seek out peer support 

Depending on their workload, your supervisor may not be available to support you and guide you step-by-step through your research process. Fortunately your supervisor is not the only person who can provide you with valuable feedback, insight and support. Reach out to other students in your cohort; building relationships with fellow students is not only an opportunity to network, but can also be a crucial source of academic and emotional support. Engage with classmates and exchange ideas, tips and experiences.  A collaborative approach will improve the quality of your work and your ability to cope with the pressures of postgraduate studies.  

Organise your research

Do not get overwhelmed by the datasets, articles, links, notes and charts. Develop a system of collecting and recording data that will make it easier for you to retrieve the information that you need. Keep your articles and data in one place, take notes while reading and track your ideas with a list of mindmap.

Stay on top of your references 

This may seem like a minor point, but is a life-saver during the postgraduate research process. There are several reference management tools to choose from like Mendeley and Zotero; some of these are free to use, but many institutions offer students free subscriptions to the paid tools. Have a look at the different options available and determine which one works best for you. Keeping track of references, citations, and your bibliography is something that takes much longer than most students anticipate — something that many people discover when they leave this aspect of their research to the last minute.

Manage your time 

When viewed as a whole, a dissertation can seem like a daunting task. It can, however, be broken into smaller tasks and projects that are more digestible and less anxiety-inducing. When scheduling your work, remember to also schedule time for breaks. Plan when you will do what task, and then break the tasks into further stages and steps. Know yourself and when you are most productive – either in the morning, the afternoon or the evening – and schedule your research around these times. Save the easy tasks for when you are less motivated. 

Never underestimate the importance of good writing

What you say is important, but so is how you say it. The quality of your research will be of little importance if it is not written or presented well. Solid writing skills and thorough editing are often the difference between simply passing your degree and getting an academic distinction.  Visit your institution’s writing centre. Most universities offer some form of gratis writing support for students — keep in mind that this is a consultancy service. The consultants are not editors, but rather coaches who offer feedback and advice on how you can improve your writing skills.

Find a good editor

Some institutions offer in-house editing services or refer students to trusted service providers. If you have to seek out your own editor, make sure you find someone with good references or who can provide samples of their past work. A professional academic editor’s services will start at around R15 000 for a 40 000 word thesis, and that’s at the low end of the scale. Be extremely wary of editors that offer their services for less — you usually get what you pay for, so budget accordingly.

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