MBAs’ outlook bleak

Students graduating this year with an mba hoping to get positions in marketing have found fewer jobs with large corporations, smaller salaries, and somewhat diminished job responsibilities.Although more mbas are finding employment this year than last, many more are working as...

Students graduating this year with an mba hoping to get positions in marketing have found fewer jobs with large corporations, smaller salaries, and somewhat diminished job responsibilities.

Although more mbas are finding employment this year than last, many more are working as consultants and in medium-sized and small companies, and many are taking sales jobs hoping they will eventually lead to marketing positions.

While students graduating in the mid-1980s walked into marketing jobs with salaries that in some cases reached into the six-figure range, today they are having to be more creative in their job searches.

The traditional marketing jobs just are not there, says Leonard MacLean, director of the business school at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

‘The jobs are different than in the past,’ MacLean says. ‘You may call it underemployment. They are working on short-term contracts, in small companies, and they’re starting their own businesses.’

Dana Tonus, placement officer for the mba program for Ontario’s University of Windsor, agrees.

Tonus says while figures are still being gathered for this year’s students, many from last year’s class have found jobs in areas they would not have considered in the past.

And Tonus says cold-calling to alumni has turned up few, if any, job leads.

‘What they’re telling me is that their companies are going through a lot of changes, with more jobs moving to the u.s.’

According to Roger Heeler, a marketing professor at Toronto’s York University, the poor job situation is a consequence of heightened international competition, rationalization and the entire restructuring of Canada’s economy due to free trade.

‘Free trade is taking its toll,’ Heeler says.

‘Not only are many of the thinking jobs being relocated down south, but there is a much more subtle form of reorganization going on,’ he says.

‘The level and responsibilities that Canadians can take on is being substantially diminished.’

And while it is well-known that companies such as ibm have pulled sales, service and marketing jobs out of Canada and back to the u.s. as a result of their North American restructuring, the extent to which rationalization will have an impact on Canadian marketing and management jobs is still unknown.

However, a recent study of u.s. multinationals operating in Canada, conducted by the New York-based Americas Society, supports Heeler.

Not only did the study find Canadian and u.s. firms are rationalizing on a continental basis, but it stated the steps already taken by multinationals to change the relationship between their Canadian subsidiaries and their u.s. corporate head offices are only the beginning.

‘This has implications not only for the career paths of Canadian-based employees, but also for the general number of jobs available to Canadian managers in the future,’ the report says.

However, Stephen Blanks, who headed the survey team, says research found that one area where there may be more Canadian autonomy under corporate restructuring is in the area of sales, advertising and marketing.

But the reality this year is that companies such as Unilever, which typically recruits 10 mba students – five of those in marketing – did no recruiting on campus this year.

And head-hunters such as Rick Chad, president of Chad Management Group, says the numbers of highly qualified mba students looking for marketing jobs through his firm this year is up about 20%.

Fewer high-level jobs for graduating mba students can also partially be explained by the fact that expectations have changed about mba students’ capabilities, according to Leelah Dawson, associate director of the University of Toronto mba program.

‘The mysticism around the mba has worn off,’ says Dawson, who is also a graduate of U of T’s mba program.

‘It’s something that had to be recognized,’ she says. ‘Employers now have a much more realistic view of what graduating students can do.’

But it is not all doom and gloom. Recruitment on campus was up this year at the University of Western Ontario in London and U of T.

Daphne Stevens, head of mba career services at Western, says recruitment was up by 4%, with companies such as Procter & Gamble taking as many as six marketing students.

Dawson says the number of offers to marketing students has almost doubled from seven last year, to 12 this year at U of T.

Meanwhile, students looking for jobs in the financial sector are faring a little better this year than last, according to many of the business schools surveyed.

The University of Calgary, the University of British Columbia, Dalhousie and York, as well as Western and U of T, report that financial firms have been steadily recruiting mbas for a variety of areas, including marketing.

‘While jobs were really down last year, I think we’ve now bottomed out,’ says York’s mba placement services head Garth Wilby.

‘We’ve had more hiring in the pharmaceuticals industry and the traditional interest by the financial sector,’ Wilby says.

Many expect the trends that have been established this year to continue for mba students interested in marketing jobs in the future.

‘When we look ahead, things aren’t going to be as good,’ says MacLean. ‘When the economy does turn around, we won’t see job growth at the same rate.’

mbas will continue to find work as consultants, with more short-term contracts and more employment in small and medium-sized businesses, he says.

Schools like the University of Calgary are restructuring their program with these long-term changes in mind.

‘The old paradigm of students graduating and jumping into middle-management positions has started to fade away,’ says the University of Calgary’s head of career development, Elaine Thomas.

‘We’ve been tailoring our mba program along an entrepreneurial vein because the growth of the ’90s is going to be in small business,’ Thomas says.