Should Your Project Manager Have a Master's Degree
Assess the worth of employee higher education

As an employer, why would you want to pay for continuing education for your project managers? What value does that bring to your company? These are common question for construction business owners who are assessing the value of paying for an employee's graduate education. With profit margins slimming, a logical way to reduce overhead expenses would be to reduce or eliminate education benefits. While on the surface this cost-cutting effort may seem reasonable, the consequences of having an employee stagnant in their lifelong learning may turn this savings into a cost that could continue to grow as industry competition increases, software systems complicate the construction landscape and projects increase in complexity. With the current expectation that entry-level construction professionals earn a construction management undergraduate degree, the concept of continued learning is now turning toward graduate-level education.

How does a graduate degree bring value to a business—particularly, a construction entity? Before answering that question, it is important to look back at history. The construction management field, as a degreed profession, has grown exponentially throughout the past 30 years. At this point, it is widely expected that an incoming construction professional will have a degree in construction management and possess the basic management and technical knowledge that this degree offers. The historical model of the construction professional being a tradesman who worked his way up to project management staff is now being replaced by a formally educated professional who is more managerially focused than trade savvy.

This trend toward formally educated professionals has led to graduate-level degrees being offered in construction management. While the undergraduate degree teaches the administration and technical aspect of construction management, the graduate degree is focused on the business aspect of construction. To see the value in a master's degree, you must first accept the idea that continuing education is vital to your organization and the greater good of the construction industry overall.

Look at the growing use of technology and data within construction. From building information management (BIM) to advances in surveying and project management software, many can agree that the need for continued education is desirable and necessary. Employee competency expectations are increasing and will only continue to do so. Undergraduate education in construction management has done a reasonably fair job at teaching the technical and managerial aspects of project management, but a master's degree in construction management teaches a broader-based understanding of productivity assessment, project portfolio management and technology.

Many construction business owners will concede that they learned through experience as they created and developed their company. The knowledge gained from success and failure obviously had a cost, just like a formal education. Some would argue that it would be better if those losses could be mitigated by formal education.

An often-voiced concern is that once an employee earns a master's degree, he or she will move onto another company or expect higher compensation. Other arguments say that if you do not demand continued education from your employees, they will stay but cease to bring value to your organization. Either way, continued education is generally considered the key to continued business success.

In a study of graduate degree predictive analytics, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts "there will be a 24 percent increase in demand for professionals with management analysis skills over the next eight years." The author of the study goes on to explain that this trend is being "fueled by an increased use of business analytics by companies to better understand the explosion of data" that can add business value through assessment.

Additionally, an insightful 1993 research study done on employment trends showed that "employment of postgraduates has grown considerably." In total, the annual output of postgraduate degrees increased by 40 percent during the 1980s, with much of this growth starting in 1984. Looking to the future, it is expected that postgraduate supply will increase. This study, done 21 years ago, shows that even then people with graduate degrees were becoming more common in every industry, including construction. The question to ask yourself as an employer is whether you want that employee on your staff, or on the staff of your competitors.