Engineers and MBA: Is it a good combination?Chen Wan Lim
Typically, people with engineering degrees make up around 20% of an MBA class population. While engineering degrees equip engineers with sound technical knowledge, an MBA degree equips engineers with managerial skills such as accounting, human resource, management and finance – all needed to properly run an organisation. Some engineers pursue their MBA degrees in the 20s, some in their 30s and some even after 50. Common motivations for pursuing an MBA degree are to transition from a technical role to a managerial role, to acquire business skills, to climb the career ladder and to change career fields. So, is the engineering and MBA combination good? We argue that it is!
- Ability to digest complex situations
The term ‘engineering’ has a few meanings but it all ties back to one concept – problem solving. Engineers are trained problem solvers, with the core ability to create, invent and innovate machines, processes, methods and ideas. Therefore, armed with sound technical abilities, an MBA degree will further enhance an engineer’s skill by allowing them to properly apply those skills in a managerial setting.
- Engineers were once ‘boots on the ground’
Often, there is a disjoint between upper management and the technical staff on the grassroots level. It is common to hear complaints from the working level of how the upper management do not understand how the processes work in the factory. But if the upper management consists of ex-engineers who spent decades on the factory floor, then they would know exactly what issues to expect and how to properly troubleshoot them.
- An engineer’s inherent nature to seek new challenges
Engineers enjoy challenges, hence the decision to undertake an engineering degree which is typically a year longer than business degrees and is undoubtedly more complex with higher level mathematics and physics. However, after many years of dabbling with technical and operational roles, an engineer would have most likely mastered the skill sets needed. Therefore, an MBA provides engineers with the avenue to transition to a managerial role by equipping them with management skills to now oversee a project, rather than to literally work on one.
- Transition to a different industry
It is no secret that banks enjoy hiring engineers; mostly for their sound technical ability to learn new skills and to troubleshoot efficiently. As financial services cover broad areas such as plantation, oil and gas, telecommunication, construction etc, banks often need technical input from professional from these industries to advise them on the technicalities surrounding each industry. For example, if a bank were to finance an oil and gas project, they would need to engage external oil and gas consultant to advise them on the risks related to a particular project and to also understand the potential upside from the projects. Engineers who have experience working in such an industry will be crucial to these financial institutions.
In a nutshell, there can be no better combination for a manager to have both technical and managerial competency. Getting an MBA after an engineering degree sends out the signal that you are ready to embark on greater heights in your career.