Degree or Certification: Which Is Best For Engineering Professionals?

Engineering remains a solid and attractive profession in today’s marketplace. Many engineers are seeking ways to become even more marketable – many through the pursuit of an MBA, and for others via certifications. It’s one of the most common questions asked, both by students and professionals in the engineering field: “What is more valuable for my career: having an MBA or certifications?”

The decision to pursue certifications, an MBA, or both, can be difficult and confusing. If you seek advice from others in the field, you will get a different answer depending on who you ask. Some will say you can’t have a successful career in engineering without certifications. Others will tell you to go for the MBA, and your earnings potential increases.

But the reality is the right answer depends on the individual. What might be right for some may not be so for others. Your decision should be based on your individual circumstances: what career path you would like to pursue and your personal goals. To assist you in evaluating the next step in your career, ask yourself these questions based on your own distinct situation:

What type of position do you want?
If you desire a position that is more business-oriented, or in management, an MBA will likely serve you best. Or, if you haven’t exactly pinned down which type of position you’d enjoy, or you want to keep your options open, an MBA generally provides for more opportunities to pursue. Lastly, if your career aspirations are financially-motivated, MBA engineers typically receive some of the industry’s highest compensation.

On the contrary, if you are the type of person who likes to specialize in a particular niche trade or skill, then pursing certifications should be in your future. Certification is an industry standard for professional recognition, and documentation of your specialized knowledge and skills. Certifications alone can build a highly-successful career for engineers, and serve as a stepping stone to an advanced degree.

Why an MBA?
If you’re still knee-deep in an internal debate as to the pursuit of an MBA, here is some additional insight to consider. Many industry experts believe the role of the engineer is changing, taking on greater responsibilities such as implementing new practices, technologies and becoming a manger of change, all of which now require broader business-related skills that can be obtained through an MBA.

Another factor that plays into the equation: How far along are you in your career? For first-time undergraduate college students, it might be a good idea to get some “real-world” work experience under your belt. The top-ranked MBA programs will not even admit you if you don’t have at least several years of experience. Many engineers choose to obtain a technical degree earlier in their career, and later jumpstart their career advancement by completing their education with an MBA and filling in where their technical degrees left off.

If you do decide to pursue an MBA after you have entered the workforce, you will need to think about “how” you will get your MBA, as much as “when.” For example, will you keep working while earning your MBA in a part-time program, or do you have the financial resources to resign from your current position and return to college full-time? Another factor: Who pays for your MBA? If you are lucky enough to secure the right position, at the right company, your employer may help finance your education.

In terms of long-term marketability, engineers boasting an MBA degree will enjoy relative job security in the future. The need for engineers who can deliver the total package with technical skills, work experience, and knowledge of the business world will likely be sought after for a long time to come.

Why Certifications?
Changing market dynamics, innovations in technology and new government-sponsored programs are all fueling growing interest in and need for voluntary professional certification by engineers. In the current environment, employers are seeking out niche talent, engineers who have technical trade skills that are often scarce and hard-to-find. And engineers who have demonstrated their knowledge of skills in a certain area will generally see an increase in marketability, and perhaps pay.

If you are considering certifications to enhance your career, take into account these growth areas within the engineering profession:

Electrical Engineering
Electrical engineers are utilized in a variety of industries, but evolving technologies have made those who specialize in analog, radio frequency and wireless skills highly sought after. Signal and applications specialties are high growth opportunities due to fourth-generation cell technology, Wi-Fi, and more.

Green Engineering
Government-sponsored, and funded, environmental programs are fostering a great need for engineers with LEED certifications, and other energy or government-related certifications. Growth of hybrid vehicles, windmills and smart-grid technologies all will require engineers specially-trained across electrical and mechanical engineering.

As you can see, there is no clear cut answer as to whether your next career focus should be certifications or an MBA. However, think about the questions posed, and you will make the choice that makes the most sense for you, as an individual, and for the career goals you hope to achieve.

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About Kristen Rafajko

Kristen Rafajko, founder of StyleListe Media, is an entrepreneur, former model, fashion stylist, and editor. She has worked with celebrities, influential leaders and businesses, and is known for her over the top ideas and imagination, her straightforward honesty and optimism, and her drive to help others succeed. Kristen has built her career by using her expertise as an editor and stylist to advise companies to market their businesses more effectively, and promote a better overall image. She has helped individuals and businesses become “famous” in their industries and to help manage and strategically plan their way to “fame”. In Kristen’s personal life, she resides as a single mother of two children, and has had the honor to do public speaking around the country on the importance of self-worth and overcoming life’s challenges. Her life's goal is to help inspire and empower women to feel confident and achieve their goals while pushing past the road blocks of life.

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