Pros/cons to AEC industry pros earning advanced degrees

Glenn Ebersole//July 24, 2023


Pros/cons to AEC industry pros earning advanced degrees

Glenn Ebersole//July 24, 2023

Professionals working in the AEC (Architecture, Engineering & Construction) industry who want to advance their education are faced with at least two potential options – an MBA or an advanced architecture, engineering or construction management degree. Ultimately, the choice depends on individuals and their career aspirations.  

Architects, engineers and construction managers are problem solvers. They are strategic and analytical, examining complex issues from all perspectives. Their qualitative and quantitative skill sets already differentiate them when they leave school and start a career in the business world. The architect, engineer and construction manager have the academic background and technical skills that enable them to understand design and construction and to speak with customers, consult clients, and lead teams in a business setting. 

Many AEC professionals are faced with an important question: “Should I get an advanced degree to move my career forward?” Today, nearly a third of employers across the U.S. are bumping up education requirements for new hires, according to Career Builder. Companies are looking for candidates with a master’s degree or higher to be innovative leaders with a strategic perspective. 

Two possible education paths are offered to AEC professionals working in industry — a master’s in business administration (MBA) or an advanced professional degree (master’s and/or Ph.D.). There are several factors to consider when making the decision.  

Completing an MBA program demonstrates a commitment to learning, improving, and applying skills that can help a company succeed. Professionals with MBAs also feel a greater sense of confidence in their marketability, as well as the ability to bring a wealth of information to various endeavors.  

Here are a few of the advantages of getting an MBA.  

Increased Global Market Awareness:  

MBA graduates had opportunities to have close contact with other students from around the world that bring different work experiences and perspectives on the global economy. MBA students can expand their knowledge of other industries in the U.S. and internationally.  

Improved Communication Skills 

Effective communication is a critical fundamental skill required for professionals to succeed. Communication may be considered a “soft skill” compared to “hard skills” but it is very valuable. An MBA can help sharpen verbal and written communication skills, allowing AEC professionals to successfully convey concepts to different people at different levels of an organization to ensure everyone is able to work together toward a common goal.  

Expanded Professional Network 

An MBA graduate becomes part of a global network of a significant number of alumni, which provides the graduates access to connect with a large network. There is a significant opportunity to build relationships with other professionals in the classroom and beyond. 

Increased Job Opportunities 

An advanced degree can help differentiate AEC professionals from their peers in a highly competitive marketplace. An MBA can be an asset in any industry. Employers typically look to hire or promote a candidate with an MBA because they have skills in marketing and finance that others within the organization may lack. This allows them to have a jumpstart to take up various initiatives and help their company increase profits.  

Improved Time Management  

An MBA program requires juggling extracurriculars alongside a challenging course load — not to mention other personal and professional pursuits. Obtaining an MBA can help AEC professionals manage their time effectively, which is an in-demand skill among employers and a valuable life skill. 

Deciding which degree to pursue requires a critical consideration of a person’s passion. An MBA degree and an advanced technical degree each take considerable time and money. Working before going back to school can help determine the best career path. The degree pursued depends on focusing on rising to the C-Suite in the corporate world or starting a business.   

Pros and Cons of: 

MBA Degree 

PROS:An MBA can help gain business knowledge outside a technical specialty, build a professional network and help those aspiring to a management role 

CONS: MBAs can be expensive, take time to earn, and MBA classroom knowledge can seem outdated compared with the speed at which technology innovates. 

Specialized Master’s Degree 

PROS: The Specialized Master’s Degree is less expensive, takes less time, requires less work experience, and provides potential for a greater impact in a specific field.  

CONS: Specialized Master’s Degree graduates gain lower salaries than MBA degree graduates, have no internship, engage in a more arduous program, and gamble on the quality of some programs that were created hurriedly and not strategically designed. 

It’s important for AEC professionals to decide if they want to be a subject matter expert or a manager. If there is a passion for architecture, engineering or construction and being on the technical side of things, then an advanced technical degree puts them at the top of their field. But, if AEC professionals are excited about working at a macrolevel in business and managing teams or considering an entrepreneurial endeavor, then an MBA is the right choice. An undergraduate architecture, engineering or construction background provides problem-solving skills and critical thinking methodology that serve them well in any career, regardless of which choice is made.  

“An MBA is a great degree for career paths like investment banking, finance, consulting and large companies. An MBA is not necessarily the right path for starting a tech company. You should be building a prototype, not getting an MBA in that case.” Guy Kawasaki, an American marketing specialist, author, and Silicon Valley venture capitalist. He was one of the Apple employees originally responsible for marketing their Macintosh computer line in 1984.  

Glenn Ebersole is a registered professional engineer and the Director of Business Development at JL Architects, a nationally licensed commercial architecture firm based in West Chester. He can be contacted by [email protected] or 717-575-8572.