Official figures show that more than 900 students from some 124 employers look set to start new MBA courses. Given my own experience talking to employers, I expect these numbers to grow as they get to grips with how they can best use levy funding to meet the needs of their organisation.
I think a new route to a higher management qualification is a positive move. For some, however, the idea that managers who are already established in their organisations might benefit from an MBA in this way is controversial.
Apprenticeships are the traditional route for those whose careers depend on the acquisition of technical knowledge, not management and leadership skills. And it is precisely in professions like engineering that UK employers need to be focusing their leadership training investment.
As we peer ahead at a world where our workplaces will be dominated by the design and application of technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous vehicles, it’s hard not to argue that we need to build technical capability among individuals and across organisations. However, in a landscape that is becoming increasingly complex and fast-changing these alone are not adequate to compete in a global marketplace.
Whatever our economy looks like in the next five years it won’t be able to function at all unless we have managers who know how to deploy teams to work through and solve complex problems, collaborate and lead.
We don’t even have to look that far forward to understand why we need to invest in management education in the workplace. As the last Budget figures showed, the UK is trapped in a prolonged productivity crisis born from the inability of organisations to get the best out of the people they employ.
At the same time we can reflect on figures from the CIPD that show a two-decade long underinvestment in training and development compared to our European peers. Add to this the estimate from the CMI that suggests we need around two million new managers by 2024, and the argument that we shouldn’t be investing in management capability looks very thin indeed.
Given the desperate need for organisations to improve their performance, the arrival of the MBA apprenticeship and the chartered manager degree apprenticeship that is also available through the levy, look like the right kind of route for upskilling people so that organisations develop the capability they need to overcome the competitive challenges they face.
Yes they break the mould by aligning apprenticeships with higher study, but they also provide people who may not ever have had access to this kind of development the opportunity to learn. Higher management apprenticeships also allow people to stay in the workplace and apply the knowledge they acquire to immediate effect – a very powerful way of learning in itself.
So as this unique new cohort of MBAs start their studies we should be applauding the fact that individuals, employers and higher education are choosing to work together to find ways of building the skills we need to thrive in the future. We should also celebrate the fact that apprenticeships are evolving to meet the needs of today’s workplace.
Susan Laing is the dean of Teesside University Business School