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Employability: The New MBA Mantra

By: Angel Burgos
Executive Director, MBA Programs, Chapman Graduate School of Business

Even before the current pandemic, American workers were experiencing a rapid decline in job security. Business professionals were constantly on the lookout for the next job opportunity to advance their careers.

Before COVID-19, the old paradigm of lifetime job guarantees had largely disappeared — especially for millennials. Their professional prospects out of college were to change jobs four times in the first decade. That's nearly double the job shifts made by the generation before them did. Gen Xers, who graduated college from 1986 to 1990, averaged just two job changes in their first ten years out of college, according to LinkedIn. Gen Z will undoubtedly experience even more employment moves.

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Clearly, there is less loyalty of employers to employees and from employees to the companies that employ them. The emphasis has switched from long-term loyalty to “transactional” relationships in which both employers and employees seek to get what they can from a shorter relationship.

To meet this challenge, MBA curriculums and instruction models have needed to adjust. The old full-time, two-year MBA has largely been replaced by accelerated one-year programs, online instruction, and part-time programs that appeal to working professionals. Students are more and more reluctant to devote six figures (such as the $233,000 that New York University’s Stern School suggests is needed for its premium program) to getting a degree.

MBA students increasingly want flexibility and portability in presentation in addition to relevance and excellence in content. The MBA programs at Florida International University (FIU) Chapman Graduate School of Business were already leaders in online education before the pandemic. We continue to adjust our curriculum and course presentation to make them as relevant as possible.

What Business Needs

In an interview with the Financial Times earlier this year, Prep MBA founder Alex Leventhal said, “Armies need captains and generals, and companies will continue to need flexible, analytically confident, inspiring leaders.”

Whether as company employees or self-employed entrepreneurs, MBA graduates need to know about adapting to,

  • different company and local cultures
  • changes in the business caused by technology, laws, and environment
  • changes in the way that businesses interact with each other

In an era in which artificial intelligence is assuming increasing importance, employers are looking for MBA graduates who have advanced intelligence in these areas.

MBA students are making a crucial investment in their future. As in any investment, they want a very positive rate of return on that investment. A successful MBA program must help the student not only understand business theory and business practice but also understand the personal skills that the professional will need to succeed.

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What an MBA Needs

Business professionals need to stay abreast of a world of change and adapt swiftly to technical and market shifts. They need to maintain a positive attitude, even when faced with career adversity. They need to know how to communicate effectively within their team and with other stakeholders. Focused listening and lifetime learning are prerequisites for leadership.

MBA graduates must be willing to pursue career mobility to increase employability.  Social and business networking is an essential competency for any MBA graduate.

Successful MBAs must know themselves, know the way business works, understand the way business has worked and will work in the future, and have the leadership skills to build a team that can tackle problems. There is much to be learned from the adaptability demonstrated in the worlds of entertainment and the arts.

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Learning from Other Disciplines

By their very nature, these fields emphasize the ability to seize on new trends and new methods of presentation. Virtual choirs, for example, sprung up quickly in the spring of 2020 as the realization spread that real choirs were a health hazard. The largest was assembled this summer by Eric Whitacre to perform his own work, Sing Gently. It was his sixth virtual choir and involved about 8,000 singers from around the world.

The principles in Whitacre’s work are not so different from those in business. “The governing principle of music is structure,” Whitacre acknowledged recently. So, it is in business, but structure alone will not produce musical or business success. Creativity and connections are needed to produce great works.

At FIU, we also believe that business professionals benefit from storytelling and improvisation. Great business successes—whether of Steve Jobs, Phil Knight, Barbara Corcoran, or Sean “Jay-Z” Carter—are often great stories. The ability to tell a story, whether in a TED Talk or an elevator pitch, is an ever-important skill.

Great comedians tend to come out of improvisation backgrounds like Chicago’s Second City. Great business leaders also need to know how to improvise when business conditions shift, and crises hit. COVID-19 has set a new high bar for the kind of improvisation that business requires in the 21st century.

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Putting together the variables in that equation is the challenge we all face – students, instructors, and staff at FIU. In the musical Hamilton, the actors sing about the “Room Where it Happened.” At FIU, our MBA classrooms—virtual and physical—are where it happens.  At FIU, our basic formula is simple:

Assessment + Attitude + Education + Energy + Initiative + Innovation = Employability

About the Author:

Angel Burgos, executive director of MBA programs for Chapman Graduate School of Business, has managed graduate programs for George Mason University, the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, and George Washington University.

A graduate of Columbia University with a master’s degree in public administration, Burgos served as a Jacob Javits Congressional Fellow for Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), where he researched and analyzed social and economic policy issues.

Angel is thrilled to live in South Florida and is actively involved with a number of nonprofit organizations in the region, including Funding Arts Broward, Island City Stage, and on the Gold Coast Regional Council for Leadership Florida.

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