For Engineers, Is an MBA or MEM Better to Climb the Ladder?
Is an MBA or an MEM Better? Or is a master’s degree even needed to advance in leadership?
To help with that, he’d like to get a master’s degree. But which is the better choice: a master’s degree in engineering management (MEM) or a master’s of business administration (MBA)?
An MEM increases a STEM professional’s business knowledge and expands their existing engineering knowledge. It offers technology, leadership, and business training and could help recipients enter management at an engineering company or become a C-suite executive, such as chief technology officer.
An MBA, on the other hand, focuses on business management theory. Graduates gain skills to help them back business decisions at leadership levels. Classes are in general business knowledge, accounting, finance, marketing, and managerial and leadership skills, says Alex Isidro, who mentors mid-career engineers.
For an MEM, classes are focused on engineering and other technical disciplines, as well as on businesses courses. It’s for those with STEM backgrounds. The degree also emphasizes leadership skills needed to become project or engineering managers or to move to c-suite positions such as chief technology officer, Isidro said.
“I personally think if you are a math major or technology or science major and you want to bridge that gap and have an engineering title, an MEM will help,” he said.
The twist is that, while technical students may feel compelled to pursue an engineering management degree, given their backgrounds, an MEM is not necessarily the best choice. An MBA offers several advantages because the MBA is one of the most well-recognized and respected degrees in the business world, he added.
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He perused many job ads for engineering management professionals, finding they sought candidates with a “master’s” degree.
At many companies, mechanical engineers are promoted from within and don’t need to specifically have a master’s degree, he added. There’s more of a need to have appropriate job skills to gain a title such as project manager or systems engineer.
“But the higher up the title at a company, you may want to have a master’s degree of either kind,” he added.
He found that engineers with an MBA hold jobs such as program manager, engineering director, finance director, marketing research analyst, public-relations specialist, executive recruiter, and chief executive officer.
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Those with an MEM degree hold jobs such as chief of research and development, engineering global logistics manager, systems engineering team leader, and chief technology officer.
“But many companies do hire people with only bachelor’s degrees but significant engineering experience for those jobs,” he added. “For many engineering positions, you may not need a master’s if you want to go up the ladder to an expert or leadership position, like a head developmental manager.”
Another consideration: Engineering companies may pay for a candidate’s MBA to see them advance within the company.
“For engineering positions it’s hard to decide, because there are so many variations as to whether you’ll need an MBA, an MEM or neither for an advanced engineering position,” Isidro said. It’s a tough call to make. It’s a tough decision to decide whether to even get a master’s degree.”
For his part, Porter is planning to begin MBA classes at the University of Minnesota. He thinks the degree will help him gain leadership positions at many types of companies. He also feels his engineering background and experience will translate to business roles and his engineering background will give him a leg up in leadership at engineering companies.
“It’s impossible to predict the future,” Porter said. “I just feel an MBA is a good way to cover all my bases.”
Jean Thilmany is a science and technology writer in Saint Paul, Minn.