Get a hand with the career climb

As IT professionals reach the "tech" glass ceiling, many consider taking a management qualification. Ross Bentley looks at the...

As IT professionals reach the "tech" glass ceiling, many consider taking a management qualification, Ross Bentley looks at the options

As their careers develop, many IT professionals will find themselves moving into management roles.

Andy Westwood, an analyst at the Work Foundation, says there are more than 4.5 million managers in the UK - a figure he says is set to increase by 500,000 by 2010.

Along the way many professionals will consider taking some kind of management qualification. The three main types of qualification are:

  • MSc - these programmes tend to be job specific. For example, you can study computer science and management
  • NVQ - these are learnt on the job and go up to level five, which is equivalent to postgraduate level
  • MBA - for the high-flyers.

Because of the cost involved and the limited number of places on offer, Westwood says many managers are not going to get the sort of development offered by a Master of Business Administration qualification.

However, if you are ambitious and serious about expanding your knowledge to incorporate a wider understanding of the business, it is a route worth looking at.

Xtra! spoke to one ITer who is in the throes of MBA study.

Having graduated from university in Canada, John Ellis came to work in the UK. After four years in various IT roles, he joined a multinational advertising agency and became European IT manager. It was at this point that Ellis decided to take a year out and study full-time for an MBA.

"I felt my career had reached a plateau. I had strong IT skills and strong people skills, but little in the way of business skills," he says. "I felt an MBA was the best way to find a job with a broader mandate than my previous IT role.

Following a recommendation from a friend Ellis decided to study at the Judge Institute, part of Cambridge University. He says, "The clinching point for me was Cambridge's reputation as a centre of excellence in science and technology - Microsoft has invested in a new science park and there are many scientific companies in and around Cambridge.

"The entrepreneur in me would love to find a technical whizz-kid and start a business together - the next 'Netscape'."

Ellis is using his savings to pay for his MBA. "If you like, this is my Porsche money from my previous job. But I see my MBA as a long-term investment, which will pay back for many years to come," he says.

"I applied too late to qualify for any scholarships. I did a brief search and the application processes seemed quite involved."

Ellis says his ultimate aim is to become an IT director, with more strategic responsibility than in his previous role.

"I am looking forward to making decisions that affect the company as a whole rather than one small aspect.

"Though I had been involved in budgeting and financial analysis before, my MBA is making me much more financially literate and more confident that I can assume a board-level position and thrive, rather than feeling out of my depth.

It is my intention to either find a smaller-sized company and join as IT director, or start as an assistant director in a larger firm. I need more practical experience, but I feel I can overcome many of the barriers which I was faced with in my previous position - the 'tech' glass ceiling."

Choosing the right business school   

Nunzio Quacquarelli, editor of The MBA Career Guide, offers his advice on choosing the right Master of Business Administration course.   

How do I choose a course?  The first thing to do when considering a business school is to narrow down the types of career you might like to pursue, balanced by a realistic self-assessment of your current abilities and skills base. Examine your motives carefully. Determining where you want to work after your studies should be a major part of this process.  

Most business school application forms ask for your career aspirations. They want to see a clear, convincing and powerful explanation of where you want to be in the future and why you believe the school can help you get there.  

For example, if you want to become a management consultant or an investment banker, there are only 50 or 60 international business schools from which your potential employers actively recruit, of which 50% are in the US.    

What criteria should I use to select a school?  A recent study of MBA students indicates that the most popular criteria for choosing a business school are: 

International reputation/prestige. Reputation among recruiters is an indicator of the quality of a programme. Of those surveyed 65% identified this as very important  n Profile of participants. The average age of students, educational background, work experience, languages spoken and success of alumni can all affect the quality of your learning experience. This was identified by 50% of respondents as very important 

Quality of research and reputation locally. How the school is regarded by employers in the country in which one aims to work is clearly significant, as well as its reputation for producing original research. This was considered very important by 41% of respondents.

Teaching style and specialisations. This factor was identified by 40% of students as very important. You will need to choose between a case method approach, taught courses, or group projects. Alternatively, you may pick a school that has a particular specialist focus such as entrepreneurship or technology management 

Flexibility and convenience. Many people choose a programme that is nearby or offers part-time or intensive courses. This was a deciding factor for 22% of respondents 

Cost was identified as a very important factor by 19% of respondents.   

How much will an MBA cost me?   In Europe, the annual cost of an MBA ranges from £5,000 to £31,000 for tuition - books and living expenses will obviously push this up. However, financial support funds exist that can make the most costly programmes affordable.   Scholarships are offered by a variety of organisations, and many local banks offer low-start loans for the period of your study. Individuals are advised to make specific enquiries about funding options when they apply to a school. 

Distance learning study is another alternative. More than 25,000 people are now using distance learning for an MBA or similar diploma with UK institutions. Costs for distance learning vary from £4,000 to £20,000, spread over a period of three to eight years.  

Within the distance learning arena, the schools most often referenced by human resource directors in The MBA Career Guide are: Aston, Durham, Henley, Heriot-Watt, Institute of Financial Management, Open Business School, Strathclyde and Warwick.    

 Further information  There will be an opportunity to meet admissions officers from MBA and executive MBA programmes in London on Monday 17 March from 5pm to 9pm at the New Connaught Rooms, 61-65 Great Queen Street , London. Further details are at

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