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tip top? Will an MBA


When it comes to management training, MBA's are the benchmark. But are they for the civil engineer? Janan Sulaiman explains the pitfalls.

Certainly the route to an MBA is fraught with difficulties. But it is full of opportunities too. It will invigorate the civil engineer so he begins to notice, for instance, that most civil engineering directors mistake macho bullying for leadership.

THE RECENT drive towards management training is, in many ways, a worrying trend. Civil engineers claim they are managers as a means of raising their status. Thus, training providers have rushed to meet this demand, not always with success.

The pinnacle of such training is gaining an MBA. The experience is very liberating and will catapult you into new breathtaking heights of strategic understanding and knowledge. As such it is a very sought after accolade.

But unlike the pharmaceutical and IT industries for instance, construction presently has very limited scope for strategic innovation and therefore does not appreciate an MBA.

Furthermore, civil engineers have never been outstanding leaders and will never be. One successfully making it to the top does not point to a trend - they are naturally always followers. They have just started to realise they need management skills and tend to clutch at the nearest course that matches perceived needs.

Certainly the route to an MBA is fraught with difficulties, but it is full of opportunities too. It will invigorate the civil engineer so he begins to notice, for instance, that most civil engineering directors mistake macho bullying for leadership, selling for marketing, project management for management or equation solving for problem solving.

However, before launching down the road to an MBA, you must be aware of the risks. It is a prestigious international degree, which will afford greater mobility in industries other than construction. But while over 120 business schools in the UK grant MBA degrees, the Association of MBAs only accredits 33 business schools. So it is important to know the calibre of your MBA.

It is also important to realise the dynamics involved in the decision to train for the MBA. Evidence shows that few make it to the top unassisted and on talent alone. Being of the 'right' colour and sex, in the 'right' place, at the 'right' time, is great. But achieving success by coincidence is as rare as winning the lottery.

Construction is not so different to the rest of industry. Experience and not expertise is important. The higher the qualifications you have the more alienated you become. So it is not surprising the MBA is unpopular. You may even be perceived as a threat.

The civil engineer should be able to make an informed decision regarding management training. There are fundamental issues of personal development at stake. But compared to many other courses and qualifications, once you have an MBA no one can take it away or devalue it.

It is the construction industry norm to look for cheap training rather than quality courses. It is often overlooked, for example, that there is a clear distinction between management and project management - there are a few management tools that can actually be used in project management. Much is expected of tailored courses outside business schools but there is no evidence to show they yield desired or adequate results.

Certainly such courses can offer training in some minor areas. But training outside business schools, however much hyped, will never get anywhere near, let alone replace an MBA standard.

The Association of MBA ( is able to advise potential candidates.

Janan Sulaiman (F) is chairman of the Association of MBA (Scotland) and managing director of consultant JS Elite

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