By Louise Wallace

CaptureTertiary qualifications don’t come cheap. Nor do they guarantee a prosperous career or job satisfaction. But there is good reason why parents dangle carrots in front of their children in the hope that they will invest in university qualifications, with the latest Graduate Careers Australia report showing around 70% of graduates were in full time work within four months of completing their qualifications. According to the report, average salaries of university graduates aged under 25 were $25,000 in 2014, with longer term job prospects also significantly higher than those without an undergraduate degree.

But for the increasing number of experienced and degree qualified individuals working in travel companies across Australia, the question remains – what’s the next step when workplace learning dries up and career progression draws to a halt? The options are many and varied, but a Master of Business Administration (MBA) could help to reignite the spark for employees whose mind is starting to wander.

For Mantra Group director of Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events, Paul Wilson, an MBA has done just that. After a number of years with the hotel group, Wilson saw the need to dig deeper to take his career to the next level and signed up to a part-time MBA with Macquarie University. “I had learned a solid base of knowledge on marketing and finance with Mantra, but the MBA has allowed me to think differently and approach economics and business on a completely different level,” he told travelBulletin. “I obviously want to climb higher in my career and I can now confidently take on complex projects with a far deeper understanding.”

Tourism Australia social media and advocacy manager, Jesse Desjardins, took a slightly different approach, opting for an Executive MBA at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership which is a two-year part-time course with five two-week modules which are completed overseas.

Desjardins, who completed his MBA last month, said the program was a valuable way of complementing his existing skill set after working in a “silo for a long time”. Having worked for Tourism Australia for two years before starting the MBA, he said the study modules became like therapy sessions that helped him to think outside of the box. “Many of us have been put in management or executive positions without any proper training, and this provided the foundation that I needed for the next step in my career,” he said.

Certainly, everyone’s motivations for tackling an MBA are different; Wilson was driven by the fact that most CEOs now hold an MBA qualification, while Desjardins saw the need to dive deeper into areas of leadership, finance and strategy. Meanwhile, Rocky Mountaineer national sales manager APAC Steve Farrelly has long had his sights on a senior management role with an iconic travel brand. With a little nudge from a mentor, he settled on an MBA program with Sydney Business School.

“We identified a gap in that many companies were hiring business and finance managers from outside the industry with very few years’ experience in travel and tourism. I had a desire to become a well-rounded candidate with knowledge of many different business facets that are required in today’s competitive environment which would add value to an organisation,” he told travelBulletin.

As one would expect from an intensive two-year study program, Farrelly said the MBA gave him a solid understanding of the commercial world, and the ability to thrive in a competitive business environment.

But in hindsight, he admits it’s not for everyone.

With costs alone exceeding $70,000 for some Australian MBA programs, he said the toll it takes on students’ personal lives can also be exhausting. “People often talk about the financial cost of an MBA, but it’s much more taxing on your personal life than your finances. You need to study around 20 hours per week, your social life comes second, and you need to work many late nights after your kids have gone to sleep,” he said.

“There are a lot of mixed opinions about MBA programs and whether they guarantee career progression or not. Your friends stop calling because you’re spending many nights and weekends on assignments and projects, and not everyone is ready for that kind of commitment,” Desjardins added.

But both Farrelly and Desjardins claimed that the late nights were worthwhile in the end.

“The struggles you go through completing an MBA develops the strength you need for tomorrow,” Farrelly said. “My father always said ‘you need to do what others won’t to achieve what others don’t’ and I was happy to sacrifice a few social weekends to achieve my goals.”

Lawrence Potter from the Macquarie University Faculty of Business and Economics agreed that an MBA is not for the fainthearted, and he admits that prices are becoming increasingly “prohibitive”. But like Farrelly and Desjardins, he claimed the short term pain was worth the long term gain.

“The benefits of an MBA would be questionable for a travel agent, but very valuable from a management or business perspective. It brings a whole range of disciplines and benefits to the fore, particularly in marketing management and financial governance,” he told travelBulletin.

Potter said an MBA was best suited to those who have dabbled in business or commerce for several years and are ready for their next challenge. But he also stressed that the golden piece of paper does not necessarily buy a better career path.

“Most graduates end up in mid management level positions, not necessarily CEO level. Senior management these days is not just about qualifications; it’s about experience and time spent in the role.

“Someone with five years of experience and an MBA simply doesn’t have the same level of ability than 25 years of experience. However, an MBA does provide a solid platform to advance your career,” he says, adding that many graduates go on to work in consulting roles.

Potter, who comes from a long line of traditional learning institutions, said on-campus learning provides the greatest benefits in terms of collegiate support, with most graduates calling on fellow students for professional support years after graduating. But with a myriad of new MBAs now emerging with institutions from all over the globe, he added – almost reluctantly – that online learning may be a better fit for some students.

“There are a number of online MBA programs out there that don’t hold as much weight as traditional programs, and employers do take notice of the difference. They realise that traditional learning provides the greatest benefits, but they can also assess the calibre and quality of employees regardless of whether they have an MBA,” he said.

His advice: think carefully before signing on the dotted line, research the institution you’re considering, and approach your employer for financial and moral support.

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