Recently Apple chief executive Tim Cook attended a roundtable event with several US teachers. His message? Education is a lifelong pursuit.
Gone are the days when a degree could last you a lifetime. Now, employees and the businesses that hire them agree: education is forever.
Especially in an age when technology changes so quickly.
Yet principles of business don’t change. This is exactly what draws so many students to MBA programs around the world. Recent Australian graduates say that not only have these programs helped them deal with new challenges posed by technology and a changing workforce, but it gives them the skills to handle age-old problems that continually appear – no matter what business, and no matter what size.
Joe Sarraf recently completed an MBA at Victoria University. His employer hoped he would learn the future-focussed skills necessary to support the business through a challenging transformation.
“They were transforming, moving from a hierarchical structure to a flat organisation structure, and I was a practice lead responsible for about 25 engineers,” he says.
“They were going to be impacted a fair bit by the change.”
Not only was Sarraf tasked with the responsibility to help those engineers through that change, the MBA program helped Sarraf analyse case studies and craft well-thought-out plans to nip problems in the bud.
“I did a change management course as part of the MBA, and quite a few of the case studies were discussed at length – and I discussed those with the CEO,” he says.
“Not only how they were approached, but also recommendations on how to possibly help the transformation process.”
Part of the MBA included a people management component. Sarraf says it was this module that “included a lot of what I took back to the office”.
“Seeing the material first-hand, written by someone independently, it helps you get on the right track. It confirmed what I was already doing, and how I could apply that to my team,” he says.
The advent of online short courses has raised a fierce debate in education about how students should learn. Online providers are now packaging short courses taught by subject matter experts, and they’re often free – which is a boon for companies hoping to upskill their workers as quickly as possible.
But Sarraf says tried and tested postgraduate courses like an MBA aren’t necessarily competing with these short courses. In fact, he says, he was able to gain more out of an MBA than he could from a short course, because it complemented his previous experience. It was delivered through a rigorous academic framework that ultimately enhanced his knowledge through critical analysis and reflection.
“The MBA is more around affirmation and confirmation that you’re doing the right thing, and being able to substantiate it,” he says.
“You have to be able to back up your statements – what’s the precedent that you’re fighting for?”
Having that knowledge of relevant case studies and materials, Sarraf says, equips him whenever he faces a challenging task or project. It provided him with an understanding of cross-functional business areas in addition to building his leadership capabilities. Without that knowledge, he wouldn’t be able to solve the same problems as quickly or efficiently.
“If you’re not aware of the past, you’re just stumbling in the dark. The MBA gives you these tools – whether you use them or not, you’re exposed to it.”
While an MBA isn’t a silver bullet to fixing any business problem, Sarraf says it’s equipped him with an ability to think differently and strategically about significant challenges. Particularly, he says, the entrepreneurial classes helped solidify the type of mental models he could apply to his job.
“In the last three months of the course, I had a leadership course and one around entrepreneurialism,” he says. “Those were really the icing on the cake.”
Victoria University (VU) Online delivers flexible and future-focused postgraduate courses through a transformative learning model.