The global economic outlook reversed its course to pessimism and uncertainty in a matter of months due to COVID-19. This shift has also reset the demand and supply of talent at many levels. How has COVID-19 impacted the skill demand and hiring projections for MBA and Business Master’s graduates? The Graduate Management Admission Council™ (GMAC™) report based on the survey of corporate recruiters compares the data collected over two waves to gauge pre-COVID and post-COVID impact. The study administered in partnership with EFMD, Highered, MBA CSEA, and career services offices at participating graduate business schools received 232 responses from corporate recruiters in Wave II (June 17-July 17, 2020) and 712 responses in Wave I (February 17-March 17, 2020).
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Skill Demand: Stability in Times of Disruption
One of the key takeaways from the research is that even as the pandemic continues to shake the global economies and shape the future of work, the confidence of corporate recruiters in the skills and abilities of graduate management talent remains strong.
During Wave I, 90 percent of respondents indicated they were highly confident or confident about the ability of graduate business schools to prepare students to be successful in their organisation. In Wave II, this number has slightly reduced to 87 percent. To put this unwavering confidence in context, we should look at the shift in the perception of the global economy. Even before the pandemic, concerns were emerging about the strength of the global economy, which only deepened subsequently. In Wave I, only 33 percent of respondents described the state of the global economy as very strong or strong as compared to just 7 percent in Wave II. This suggests that even in a weak global economy, confidence in a business school’s ability to prepare future managerial talent remains steady.
The top three reasons recruiters report about confidence in b-school’s ability to prepare graduates to succeed in their organisation were strategic thinking, communication skills, and versatility. They again remained stable between Wave I and Wave II. However, one of the most noteworthy shifts in the skills demand had been in the ability to navigate the challenges of technological disruption, which was identified by more than two-thirds of the respondents as becoming more important as a result of COVID-19, followed by strong communication skills.
Hiring Projections: The Optimism of Rebound in 2021
The global financial crisis of 2008-09 resulted in a significant loss of jobs at all levels. In subsequent years, as the economies recovered, many organisations faced intense competition for attracting and retaining talent. This time employers seem to be cautiously optimistic in maintaining their attractiveness for top talent, and they are more likely to adopt a “wait and see” approach. Only 8 percent of respondents note that they are rescinding job offers of graduate management talent from the class of 2020, and four times as many report delaying start dates. The hiring of b-school interns also seems steady in Wave II as more recruiters adopt online/virtual experiences
Most recruiters report keeping their headcount stable in 2020 (61%) compared to 17 percent, decreasing headcounts and 22 percent increasing it (see chart). Looking into the hiring projections for 2021, there are prospects of a recovery in demand for MBA and business master’s candidates. In Wave II, the proportion of recruiters reporting plans to hire MBAs in 2021 (89%) is at a similar level as Wave I (92%).
MBA and business master’s graduates are not immune to the scale and scope of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. However, the findings of the 2020 Corporate Recruiters Survey suggests that employers remain confident about the value of graduate management talent, which is also apparent in their relatively steady hiring projections and salary trends. In sum, the skills and abilities endowed by graduate management talent through their business school experiences make them a valuable asset in supporting organisational recovery and resiliency.
Dr. Rahul Choudaha is Director of Industry Insights & Research Communications at GMAC in the Washington DC area. As a subject-matter expert on mobility trends, student choices, and enrolment strategies, he evangelizes trends and insights related to global graduate management education and careers on the foundations of research and intelligence. He has presented more than 150 sessions at professional conferences and has been quoted over 300 times in global publications. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.