You Paid for Grads' Skills. Now Use Them

Last year, Brent Fitch was still in the thick of his studies at Purdue University's Krannert School of Management when he up and left his job as a senior account representative at an auto parts company. The reason: His employer was completely unsupportive of his efforts, he says, making him use up vacation time for the two-week-long executive MBA residence programs, providing scant financial support, and even questioning the worth of the degree.

So Fitch, 37, took his six years of management experience and still-growing business acumen to more welcoming arms. At Denso International America Inc., a Southfield (Mich.)-based auto parts maker, Fitch was able to negotiate a more flexible work schedule, as well as financial support for his degree. Now, as a sales manager, he uses skills learned from the EMBA program, from finance to human resources. The new boss "is really pushing me to come up with real strategies based on what I've learned," he says.

Turns out, there are a lot of Brent Fitches out there. Dissatisfied with career development at their sponsoring companies, more than half of the graduates in BusinessWeek's 2001 survey say their employers should have more clearly defined how an EMBA degree would affect their career paths. And one-third say they would have liked their companies to offer professional coaching or mentoring throughout the program. No surprise, then, that recent EMBA grads report that anywhere from 40% to 70% of their classmates changed jobs during or after the program.


  The resounding message for employers is that they need to improve career development support if they want to hold onto their newly minted EMBAs. Although the shaky economy could keep some employees tethered for now, the vast networking opportunities and high portability conferred by an EMBA degree gives many mid-career grads happy feet.

The schools aren't helping them, either, say grads. Nearly one-third complained that the programs did not offer access to career services offices, and 93% of those would have preferred it. Yet such demands put the schools in a ticklish position. How do the institutions satisfy students' career-planning needs without appearing to encourage job flight? After all, companies foot the entire bill for more than half of all EMBA students at the top 25 schools, according to BusinessWeek's survey.

But with 16% of mid-career executives paying their own way at the top 25 programs--a marked increase from 10 years ago, say EMBA directors--the complaints are unlikely to go away. And, of course, in tight times, "as companies revisit their funding policies, the student picks up even more of the price tag," says Penny Oslund, director of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Kenan-Flagler Business School's EMBA program.


  Seeking a middle road, many EMBA directors are cautiously rolling out career development initiatives but say the programs are designed to encourage employee retention, not job-hopping. Ultimately, though, the only thing stopping employee flight is the employer. UNC's Oslund is scrutinizing her alumni's career paths to identify the companies with the best practices. And she's finding that employers with the highest retention rates are those that "really do sit down and talk with prospective students about how the degree will affect their career."

A good example, says Maury Kalnitz, executive director of the Executive MBA Council, is the EMBA selection process at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM ) Since 1997, a company-wide steering committee has chosen EMBA candidates based on manager recommendations and talent reviews. Each unit's human resources execs and top managers work with the chosen employees to make sure they're challenged. The firm has sponsored more than 300 EMBAs; last year it sent 40 employees to programs at Columbia, New York University, Wharton, Cornell, and Duke.

The fact is, most employees take on the EMBA intending to stick with their companies. James Valle, a University of California at Los Angeles grad, says a class poll at the start of his EMBA program revealed that 80% of them wanted to stay put. By the end of the second year, the number dropped to 20%. Clearly, companies have a choice: Use EMBAs or lose them--and their valuable new skills.

By Brian Hindo in New York

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.