Several MBA recruiters at leading global companies – from media to technical consulting – told BusinessBecause last year that they have strong hiring intentions through to 2016.
Digital skills – in areas such as big data, analytics and the cloud – were cited as some of the most desirable qualities they seek in job candidates.
Digital is also disrupting management education. Business schools are increasingly trying to adopt Silicon Valley style teaching – a focus on innovation and tech.
Chief among the companies gearing up for rapid recruitment are professional services firms, which have profited from moving into lucrative digital service lines as such e-commerce and social media marketing.
According to the UK-based Management Consultancies Association, technology and digital services increased their share of consulting revenues by 6% in 2013, accounting for a quarter of income.
Paul Connolly, director of the MCA think tank, said: “We’re seeing across the industry more appetite for recruiting people with core digital skills.”
At Big Four audit firm KPMG, digital is one of the core growth areas, according to Mazhar Hussain, director at KPMG Digital and Analytics.
He said that he expects the newly-founded team to triple in number by the end of 2015. “We’re looking for talent,” he said, both externally and internally within the firm.
KPMG is halfway through a $1 billion investment program aimed at developing new data and analytics solutions for clients.
Revenues across its global network have risen but much of the growth in its advisory business was driven by increased demand among companies for big data services.
It recently revealed plans for a £20 million investment in UK-based Imperial College Business School to establish a Centre for Advanced Business Analytics. This allows it to pick the “crème of the crop”, Mazhar said.
Paul Thompson, partner at Deloitte Digital, said the 440-employee company is hiring “very aggressively” to help drive the growth of its digital and technology consulting services.
To address the “digital challenge”, he said, the firm has opened up its recruitment. “We are looking at talent from industry, agencies, other consultancies, graduates [and] business schools,” he said.
Paul added that analytics has become an important skill for the company. Digital is one of Deloitte’s strategy priorities, he said. “It’s becoming fundamental to the way businesses operate.”
Britain’s digital companies employed more people than those outside the digital economy – 23 employees per company on average compared with 20, according to a 2013 report from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.
The UK has at least 270,000 digital companies but estimates fluctuate wildly because of split opinions on their definition. Previous estimates missed out sectors such as technical consulting. But a report by Growth Intelligence found that the digital economy has spread into every industry.
E-marketing is one of the biggest. WPP, the world's largest advertising group, actively recruits MBA students, according to Frances Illingworth, global recruitment director.
The FTSE100 company has two entry routes: an MBA Fellowship Program that scoops talent directly from business schools; and separate recruitment processes among its 350 different marketing and communications businesses.
“We’re open to applications from all the business schools,” said Frances, adding that development plans can be created to gear hires towards general management and strategy roles.
Digital advertising is the now fastest growing segment of the global advertising industry. Automated ad buying is changing the nature of how advertising groups operate.
Frances said that she values MBAs whom are skilled in analytics and big data. “Data is becoming an important part of how we look at the customer journey... How one looks at data and media data is critical to our business now,” she said.
“We definitely value business school hires.... It’s an indicator of somebody’s ability to understand business in a wider sense, and a breath of experience,” she added.
The wider media industry is ripe for digital disruption, opening up opportunities for the right graduates.
Cable companies are increasingly shifting content online, as consumers change viewing habits away from TV and to smart devices and PCs.
“The demand for TV content to be streamed is definitely there,” said Rob Bolton, a digital marketing manager at Warner Music, and lecturer at the Schulich School of Business.
“An MBA [graduate] with knowledge of the industry will indeed be a valuable asset, especially for those graduates who can identify and exploit opportunities – essentially creating new jobs as opposed to looking for posted roles to fill,” he added.
MBA programs are teaching the art of analytics. This is used to inform companies’ marketing campaigns, according to Helen Gammons, director of the MBA (Music and Creative Industries) at Henley Business School.
“The creative sectors – the music, film, TV and games arenas – are greatly benefitting already from advanced analytics,” she said.
Innovation can often be slow but most sectors are now being fuelled in part by digital technology.
Finance has been a traditional bastion for business school students. But there are signs that banks are evolving to meet the needs of today’s digitally connected clients.
Global financial services group American Express will hire 250 MBAs in 2015 to drive a digital transformation, said Brian Ruggiero, vice president of global campus recruitment.
The company offers MBA graduates roles across multiple functions including digital product management, finance, client management, operations, and risk and information management.
Brian said Amex has sought to hire more people who can help transform the business to lead in the mobile payment and digital and technology space, and expand service offerings.
“We [are] looking for talent[ed] individuals who are fluent in code, understand parallel processing, data clustering and statistical analysis,” he said.
“MBA hires bring new ideas, new skills and an entrepreneurial spirit that help take our business to the next level,” he added.