Why shouldn't engineers do an MBA?

MBA for engineers

Lutz Schwalbach is a mechanical engineer. But economic issues have always interested him and when he was working in purchasing at an equipment manufacturer after completing his studies, he was gripped by the desire to learn more about sales. So he decided to take a distance learning course in sales engineering and then added an MBA in Marketing & Sales at the University of Kaiserslautern, which also enabled him to spend time abroad in Budapest. From business administration and economics to communication and scientific work, Lutz Schwalbach was able to explore new subject areas and make contacts with interesting fellow students. It was so important to him that he invested his free time and savings in it. "For me, the MBA was a hobby project and a great personal enrichment, but not a career factor," emphasizes Lutz Schwalbach. In fact, his employer did not support the further qualification and the successful completion did not lead to any possibility of professional advancement for him.

No guarantee for professional advancement

What was clear and completely okay for Lutz Schwalbach from the start can be a very unpleasant surprise for many engineers: because although many providers advertise their cost-intensive postgraduate management courses as a career push, the Master of Business is Administration (MBA) is by no means a recommendable option for all engineers who want to develop professionally. “Humans are hunters and gatherers and have a tendency to acquire any qualifications without any sense or understanding. But if the knowledge cannot be used in the medium term, it becomes obsolete. That is why I advise against an MBA if there is not a plausible probability and ideally even clear signals that the person can achieve a corresponding position in the company. It is particularly important not to opt for such a program out of unemployment, ”emphasizes Christoph Boldt, who as a consultant at the Dortmunder Weiterbildungsforum e.V. has specialized in questions of professional development and career planning.

Engineers who are interested in further qualification from employment should first check whether the company management or executives even trust them in a management position: "Many decision-makers in companies - especially very specialized - technicians cannot imagine themselves in a field of activity, the business management one Requires know-how. Regardless of whether this assessment is right or wrong, the MBA will not lead to professional advancement if these people do not recognize your potential, ”warns Christoph Boldt. In his experience, engineers up to the age of 42 who move from middle management positions towards operational or strategic positions in higher management have particularly good chances of advancement after completing an MBA. In companies that produce in a number of ways, the chances with an MBA are also better than in highly specialized companies in which the strategic management is also occupied by specialists from the production area.

Career in your own company or in another company

The example of Janusz Sendel (31) confirms this assessment. He studied product engineering at Furtwangen University and, through his bachelor's thesis in plant controlling, made it into R&D controlling at Continental Automotive GmbH in Villingen when, after five years, he wanted to add a master's in sales & service engineering: “In my day-to-day work, I noticed that I would rather work on structural solutions than on operational issues that relate to day-to-day business. The MBA was a very good fit because it is geared towards the independent development of project work, ”explains the engineer. His supervisor told him that an MBA was not absolutely necessary for a further career, but he still offered him his support and also took on half the costs of the extra-occupational postgraduate course. Janusz Sendel handed over his area of ​​responsibility to a successor and rose immediately after completing the MBA, so that he now works with the development manager and heads a small department. In terms of content, he also benefits from what he has learned at the university: “The master’s degree was about new business models that mean that companies no longer offer their services as a product, but as a service. This is exactly the approach my company is now pursuing, ”he explains. But he also benefited from modules on project management and in-depth knowledge of cost accounting, especially since many of the university lecturers work as department heads in large companies and were thus able to provide practical insights.

The graduate engineer Frank Wehe (36) would also have received support from his employer, a medium-sized logistics company, in completing the MBA in corporate management / financial management at the Koblenz University of Applied Sciences. But he did not want to be tied to the company and therefore implemented his plan on his own. In fact, after graduating, he was interviewed by several large companies in his area. He decided for a position in the electromobility division of Deutsche Post AG with the medium-term intention of holding a management position. “The management positions here are often occupied by people who previously worked in the consulting area. But for me it was worth it to have made the step into this large corporation. The decisive factors were my knowledge of vehicle technology as well as economic and entrepreneurial know-how, although I can only use the knowledge from the specialization in corporate management / financial management to a limited extent in my work practice ”, says Frank Wehe. He recommends that interested engineers who want to achieve a higher position in the company take the step to the MBA - simply because one intensifies basic knowledge of business administration and, depending on the specialization offered, receives a holistic picture of corporate management. You also benefit from the network and the bilateral exchange with other people who want to take a similar path.

Criteria for the choice of course and provider

Most of the recommended MBA programs that are explicitly aimed at engineers, according to Christoph Boldt, are geared towards technical and application-oriented business administration: “They combine knowledge in the areas of production and production chain control, but also teach time management methods. If this content is linked with personnel and executive management, it is particularly helpful - especially for those who want to take on a management position in development. ”If an engineer wants to develop into a strategic position, it can also be useful to deepen to deal with economic theories and management methods as well as leadership management if necessary. Courses that impart this knowledge are usually not explicitly aimed at engineers, but also, for example, at business graduates or graduates without a corresponding specialization. But technicians in particular can also benefit from this. “Many engineers concentrate on systems and rational conditions, but don't know the human aspects of their work so well that they underestimate them or do not take them into account correctly. This is why MBA programs that focus on organizational psychological aspects are worth gold for companies, ”says Christoph Boldt.

When choosing the provider, interested parties should make sure that they have an accreditation. In case of doubt, it can be interesting to read expert reports prepared by external experts, which allow conclusions to be drawn about the quality of the programs. According to Christoph Boldt, the MBA is even more widespread among engineers in the USA than in Germany: “In Germany, many engineers define themselves through their technical expertise and therefore opt for a doctorate. In the USA it is different because the doctorate there is often linked to longer research phases, which often cannot be completed part-time ”. If engineers are suitable for a corresponding position in their company, their superiors usually offer internal advancement training or financial support for an MBA. However, as the examples from Frank Wehe and Lutz Schwalbach show, depending on your individual motivation, it can also make sense to decline such an offer or to pay the costs out of your own pocket from the outset.

Note: Anyone interested in trade union or company policy work should keep an eye on the work of the Academy of Labor in Frankfurt am Main. In addition to the current Bachelor's degree in “Business Administration - Personnel and Law”, this institution is planning to introduce an MBA, which is aimed at works and staff councils, trade union secretaries and HR professionals who are interested in co-determination and job determination.