In a recent survey by US News & World Report, Project Management was ranked one of the most desirable skills required by businesses, just behind leadership and business analysis. The demand for high level project management skills has exploded in the past few years. Practitioners have taken note and are ramping up their skills to meet the demands of the workplace. In a past survey by the Project Management Institute (PMI®) of PMI® members, 61,000 PMI® members said they intended to pursue an advanced degree and 32,500 of those respondents said they intended to pursue it in project management.
As practitioners are looking to return to school, they should be thinking of a few critical items. First, they need to find a program that will equip them and challenge them to standout in the workplace. With nearly 700 colleges and Universities in the U.S. offering either a certificate or advanced degree in project management, the selection process can be daunting. However, would be students can rely on PMI®’s Global Accreditation Center (GAC) to certify those programs that have met PMI®’s rigorous accrediting standards. In the U.S., currently, only 20 programs have achieved this level of accreditation through PMI®.
The program must also be flexible enough to meet the schedule of working professionals. Traditional graduate education doesn’t fit the life of today’s working professional. A program needs to adapt to the schedule of the student, not the life of the student to the academic calendar. Programs offering online and on-site degree completion tracks offer the most flexibility, meeting schedule demands and learning preferences and needs.
Third, the program must be practically focused. A strong set of theoretical principles and guidelines undergirds project management practices, but those theories cannot be the sole focus of the program. A program must be centered in the workplace. Course lectures, class activities, assignments, and other course work must show how one actually manages the work of the project. This is most often accomplished through a high level of class interaction that focuses on the real world experiences of the class. Therefore, classes are more interactive and collaborative than the freshman lecture hall most remember from their undergraduate days. The emphasis must be placed squarely on real world problems and applications.
Finally, the program must have a track record of success with alumni, providing them with a high degree of satisfaction and providing necessary career services. The alumni network and career services are two of the major areas that a program can continue to service its graduates, and these two areas are often overlooked during the program selection process. However, a strong alumni network can lead to a number of career opportunities, and a successful career services department can provide the necessary support for advancing one’s career throughout one’s professional life.