It’s a Dirty Job, But Some MBA Has To Do It

It's a Dirty Job, But Some MBA Has To Do It

The findings of the latest Global Snapshot, a survey carried out by Antal, a recruitment agency, will come as a surprise to some. No sooner had the UK announced a 0.9% drop in manufacturing output for the last three months of 2011 than Antal’s global survey concluded that the best hiring prospects for professionals and managers in the first quarter of 2012 will be in manufacturing. The firm studied hiring trends at nearly 20,000 companies across the world, finding that almost 70% of organisations in the manufacturing sector intend to take on new staff at professional or managerial level during this period. To compare, the figure is just 52% in banking and financial services.

If one of the consequences of the downturn is a return to making things people want to buy, rather than shunting money around in ever more complex and unfathomable ways, then all well and good. (Anyone with doubts would do well to wonder why Germany has remained Europe’s strongest economy despite being at the heart of the troubled euro zone.) But have the world’s MBA students understood this message? Or are they, like so many of their predecessors, still focused on getting a highly paid job in banking on graduation?

A recent survey of American MBAs conducted by Universum, a brand management firm, suggests not. It found that financial services giants such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Blackstone Group and Morgan Stanley are still among the firms that students most aspire to work for. Nonetheless, there is a difference between aspiration and actuality. Financial services firms are not hiring MBAs in the number they once did. So even careers advisors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, a traditional feeder to the financial services sector, are encouraging students to think beyond the banks and look at the finance opportunities within industry.

It is not alone. In Europe, where financial markets are particularly volatile, schools such as HEC Paris are looking to place students with consulting firms and new media companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon. Companies in the luxury sector, including L’Oréal and Dior are also hiring to meet continued growth in the Asian market.

But it is the energy sector that is among the most vibrant, whether in oil and gas, nuclear or renewables. Marie-Jose Beaudin, head of careers services at McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management in Canada, says she has noticed a growing interest in what she describes as “dirty” industries such as metals and mining, engineering and even tobacco. She believes that this is happening because students see them as more stable than finance. And they also believe that they will offer better global opportunities at a time when jobs in many other sectors are still concentrated in the America or Western Europe.

Ms Beaudin also points out that manufacturing and engineering firms have improved the way that they target MBA-level candidates. “In many ways they’ve aped what banks and tech companies have pioneered and are now using this to snatch the best people away,” she says. “We consequently now see students genuinely excited about working for companies that in the past just weren’t considered sexy or dynamic at all.”

How long will this triumph of dirty jobs will last? Susan Kline of the careers department at MIT Sloan reckons there are still plenty of students who hanker after a job in financial services, but who now view it is a long-term option rather than one for immediately after graduation. And even if banking has become unfashionable, and some of the brightest and best students are looking at less risky industries, memories of the financial meltdown of 2009 are bound to fade. When they do, the lure of the banks’ big bucks will no doubt put them at the top of the MBA career tree once more.

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