Thursday 19 October 2017 News Updated at 07:10 AM IST
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Benefits of work experience for MBA students - Deccan Herald
Benefits of work experience for MBA students
Aditya Mohan Jadhav,
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Two incidents in the last few months have made me realise the benefits that a work experience can have for students before they join a management course. The first was when All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) sent a notification on standardising the management programme admissions process wherein it reduced the evaluation weightage awarded for prior work experience of MBA aspirants to 5% of the selection process. The second was when we received feedback from HR professionals on the unsuitability of MBA graduates to be employed as middle-level managers. So, here’s a look as to how prior experience can help students study management concepts.

Ask why, not how

The objective of management education is to create management professionals who provide direction and leadership to employees so as to achieve the firm’s objectives. The two critical attributes which contribute to the above is the problem-solving attitude and the understanding of the business processes. Hence, in this light, a manager is expected to ask questions with managerial implications like 'why does a problem exist?’ rather than clerical questions like 'what to do and how to do it?’ Prior experience of management processes facilitates this.

One should understand that unlike undergraduate programmes, management programmes are intensive short-duration programmes that range from 18 to 20 months. To ensure development of leadership and problem-solving skills, the management faculty needs to transcend from 'how to’ (basic concepts) to 'why to’ (practical applications) within the first three or four sessions of the course. For someone with prior work experience, this transition is easier as the student will be familiar with the issues being discussed.

Case studies are extensively used to illustrate applications of management concepts in the classroom. A good case study requires any student to understand the business setting, identify the issue being faced in the case study, list out alternative solutions and choose the best alternative after evaluating each one for its effectiveness. A student with prior work experience finds it easier to appreciate the setting and identify the issue at hand as he or she may be familiar with the issues.

Live projects and management simulation games are extensively used in top B-schools to facilitate development of problem-solving skills. Most of these require the student to take responsibility of his or her own learning. The diversity of issues involved also makes it imperative that students learn from each other. Group learning also inculcates team work and team spirit among the students. This co-learning environment requires that a student should be open to new ideas as well as face criticism. A student with work experience finds it easier to appreciate another’s viewpoint because he or she has experienced a critical examination of his or her own ideas during a job. A fresher, on the other hand, may struggle when his or her prior learnings is questioned.

Critical component

Internships form another critical component of management education. Internships allow a student to understand and appreciate a management setting in a company and learn on the job. It also allows the company to evaluate a student for a job by requiring him to complete a specific task during the internship. Top employers prefer hiring MBAs via pre-placement offers (PPO) during the internship as it allows them observe and evaluate the student for a longer period. A fresher has to spend a considerable period of his internship in understanding how the company works whereas a student with prior work experience invests the time in completing the task allocated to him or her.

Even during final placements, the profiles offered to experienced candidates are at managerial levels which are more complex vis-À-vis a fresher who generally gets absorbed as a management trainee. These managerial profiles provide better growth opportunities in comparison to those available to management trainees. Even if the experienced candidate and the fresher are both offered the same profile by the company, the experienced candidate is offered a premium in the package based on his or her prior experience.

The next question is 'What will be an ideal experience prior to opting for management education’? In case one is opting for a two-year, full-time MBA programme, one should have at least two to three years of prior work experience. An employee spends the first year in understanding the work processes and systems and takes on real responsibility only second year onwards. Hence, work experience of more than two years is desirable. If one is opting for an executive MBA programme, then minimum five years prior work experience is a must as the programme focuses more on the application of high-end management concepts. Therefore, it is advisable for MBA aspirants to join the course only after obtaining prior work experience.

(The author is admissions chair, T A Pai Management Institute, Manipal)