MBA Employers Say AI Skills are in High Demand

MBA students should demonstrate a nuanced understanding of AI’s applications in driving innovation, say business schools and corporate recruiters

As organizations worldwide strive to stay ahead in the competitive race, the skill set demanded of MBA graduates is undergoing a shift. There is a growing inclination among employers towards candidates equipped with proficiency in artificial intelligence (AI) skills.

The annual Corporate Recruiters Survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which runs the business school entry exam, bears this out. The findings reveal that 74 percent of employers are actively seeking technological expertise in prospective hires. More specifically, they express a distinct preference for MBAs who demonstrate proficiency in both AI and machine learning.

This shift not only mirrors the increasing importance of AI in diverse industries but also highlights the pivotal role it plays in shaping the future of business strategy and decision-making.

“AI is impacting many aspects of business. It’s rapidly evolving with generative AI, and employers naturally want to stay ahead of the curve in terms of how they manage their organization, the products and services they offer, and the experiences they provide to customers/clients as well as to their employees,” says Anne Alaoui, head of MBA careers at London Business School.

She says most firms looking to hire MBAs this year have not commented explicitly on a requirement or preference for AI skills. However, alumni and guest speakers at career events LBS organizes have mentioned that AI is becoming a buzzword and increasingly included on CVs.

“Employers have always required MBAs to be technologically literate and up to date,” says Alaoui. “We have seen waves of new technologies emerge over the past 30 years, and new roles and functions develop as a result. MBAs are sought after to fill these types of roles as they offer a blend of business acumen, emotional intelligence and proficient technological skills.”

Harnessing the power of AI

Traditionally, MBA programs were designed to cultivate a broad range of managerial and leadership skills, emphasizing areas such as finance, marketing and organizational behavior. However, as technology continues to permeate every facet of business operations, the demand for professionals capable of harnessing the power of AI has intensified.

“These tools are transforming how businesses operate, utilize data, and set expectations of productivity from employees. Those who have both the training to use these tools and the business knowledge to set and drive strategies will be well-positioned moving forward,” says Steve Rakas, executive director of careers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

Employers are now seeking MBA graduates who not only possess a solid foundation in traditional business acumen but also demonstrate a nuanced understanding of AI and its potential applications in driving innovation, optimizing processes and enhancing overall business performance.

“As companies increasingly adopt technology, there will be an increasing need for MBAs possessing specialized technological skills,” says Huseyin Gurkan, assistant professor of management science at ESMT Berlin business school. “However, this demand will extend beyond the traditional realms of AI and machine learning. Specifically, employers might look for individuals capable of connecting conventional business knowledge with technical proficiency.”

This is primarily driven by the growing significance of digital transformation in businesses, prompting a call for MBAs capable of guiding organizations through technological shifts. 

“Successful management of this transformation necessitates adept collaboration across diverse organizational functions and the skill to integrate technology into various business operations by fostering effective communication between technical and non-technical teams,” says Gurkan.

Strong employer preferences for technological skills

Therefore, there are big implications for MBA job seekers based on the strong employer preferences for technological skills. “The key point for MBA hires will be their continued ability to make sense of lots of data, pull out the main drivers and present that concisely to clients and other stakeholders,” says London Business School’s Alaoui. “As AI will likely increase the amount of data available, it will become more important for consultants to be good storytellers and bring the human connection.”

Additionally, her advice for MBA job seekers is to think creatively about how your personal experience of AI-driven products could apply in your target industry and role. “Include examples of how you have used technologies such as AI in previous projects or in extra-curricular activities in your application documents,” she adds.

Crucially, business schools and MBA programs will need to adapt to meet the growing demand for AI and machine learning skills. “MBA programs should integrate specialized courses focused on AI and machine learning into their curricula,” says Gurkan. “Also, it is essential to underscore the cultivation of skills such as critical thinking, communication and ethical considerations,” as these skills play a pivotal role in fostering effective leadership within business environments driven by AI.

Additionally, Gurkan says MBA programs should facilitate hands-on experiences through projects and internships, enabling students to apply AI and machine learning concepts in authentic business scenarios.

“To implement this approach successfully, active collaboration with industry partners is necessary. Through robust partnerships, MBA programs can furnish students with opportunities to comprehend the practical implications and decision-making processes associated with AI.” 

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