Project Management Degrees – Challenges and Opportunities

Just before Christmas I was invited along to a PMI event in Manchester. It was called “Shaping Project Management Education” and it was hosted by the PMI UK Chapter.

It was an event that brought together those currently working in the academic world of project management – specifically universities that offer project management degrees. People working for organisations that hire graduates in project management were also in attendance.

2015-12-09 15.16.49The idea of the day was a workshop to explore how degree level education in project management can meet the demands of businesses today that need and want employees with this attainment in education. If you didn’t already know, PMI has a keen interest in this angle of education – they do good things with their Educational Foundation and academic research.

I’m really interested in this area for a number of reasons but mainly it’s about how to utilise graduates in project management because at the moment there still exists a problem where organisations aren’t that interested in recruiting people without previous experience in project management, regardless of whether they have a degree in project management or not. We see it everyday at Arras People with the kind of enquiries we receive so I was interested in going along to understand what the collective industry could do about this problem.

Through a series of sessions throughout the date, here’s my takeaways about the current challenges and opportunities:

Current Challenges

  1. Partnership between universities and businesses is key – yet a lot of focus is given to the top and large employers in the area who are perhaps more readily able to take on graduates who require that on-the-job training. But what about the hundreds and thousands of smaller and medium-sized businesses that also need project managers? How can universities make graduates ready to work in these smaller organisations?
  2. Project management is about management ability, people skills, the softer skills that universities don’t tend to teach. Degrees in project management tend to focus on the harder, technical skills. How can universities increase this side of project management education?
  3. Organisations are just not ready for career choice project managers. It is only recently that project management degrees have come into existence and organisations don’t know what to do with a degree educated project manager with no practical, real world experience.
  4. Not only are organisations not ready for career choice project managers, they also don’t know what to do with a graduate who is not industry ready. Project management degrees (apart from construction project management) are business generic.
  5. Expectations at universities may not be adequately set with students. Many believe they will be able to start working as a Project Manager once they complete their degree.
  6. Degree courses in project management often don’t include the wider industry preferred accreditation such as PRINCE2, APM or PMI. Graduates can feel that the additional spend on these courses after completing a degree is a little unfair.

These are just a handful of the challenges expressed during the sessions.

So what opportunities exist to shape project management education in the future?


  1. All project management degrees should be sandwich courses i.e., there is a year out in an industrial placement in a project management related role. This will enable students to pick up valuable real world experience in project management which should help them gain employment when they graduate.
  2. Universities need to focus on employability skills as well as the academic theory. Could universities include modules that are more practically focused? Students that take employability studies alongside their degree will be more likely to hit the ground running when in employment.
  3. Expectations need to be set at university that a graduate is unlikely to leave university and become a project manager straight away. There needs to be more discussion and topics that cover the roles that a new graduate is more likely to start working within. Practical skills in areas like project planning, reporting, analysis and so on are more likely to be the skills that employers would look for in a graduate rather than management theory!
  4. Should a Bachelor’s degree in project management even exist? The focus should switch to Masters degrees that require so many hours of practical project management experience to qualify to undertake it.
  5. Businesses should also be thinking about how they are prepared to take on graduates – without the time and money to invest in areas such as softer skills training and a career path to project manager, maybe they shouldn’t even be considering it?
  6. Should project management degrees be linked up with modules from the psychology department? If soft skills training is something that not many universities offer, perhaps link ups with other university departments is the answer?
  7. Project management degrees need more practical elements, for example using industry, carrying out simulations and group exercises. Rather than a dissertation – should the final piece of work be a project? Should there be enforced voluntary activity outside the university? How about encouraging take up of things like Enactus?

These were just some of the thoughts that came from group discussions between the corporates and academia. It was positive, encouraging, a recognition that both sides need to work closer together to shape project management education otherwise everyone loses out – not to mention those that really matter, the students themselves.

This current popular interest in project management surely is a good thing. The only thing is, how do we convert the interest into well-educated and trained project people. The ones we’re going to need in the coming generations.

Watch this space as we wait to see what PMI’s next steps are now the conversations have started.




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  1. Lyndsay,
    I don’t understand all this apparent angst over project management degrees. Construction project management degrees have been in place since just after WWII (University of Florida in the USA and University of Melbourne in Australia were amongst some of the first to offer them)

    The problem as I see it is the IT and government sectors in particular seem unable to figure out how to effectively utilize project managers and project management as a delivery system which is not at all unusual in OWNER organizations, where projects are INVESTMENT or COST CENTERS as opposed to CONTRACTORS, for whom projects are PROFIT CENTERS. For more on this topic, check out the work of Chris Sauer over at Oxford University.

    Explained another way, most construction project management graduates do not end up working for OWNER organizations (there are always exceptions) but for CONTRACTORS. Why? Because working for owner organizations we are nothing more than lower to mid level managers, with little or no formal authority, while working for a contractor organization, we often end up with total or near total P&L statement responsibility. Truly a job that a career path objective and not simply something we do for a year or two on our career to some corner office.

    Once we start to differentiate between how OWNERS and CONTRACTORS view of projects and project management one can get a better handle on why there seems to be so much confusion.

    Keep in mind that those of who work as contractors, construction or otherwise, there is no “job security” as you are employed on a contract by contract basis. Very few people who are attracted to “OWNER” companies are willing to give up the security of a “real job” in exchange for the excitement and challenges offered working as “contractor scum” as we are often referred to by those coming from owner organizations.

    Bottom line- for those who want to truly understand project management and a career in project management, look to construction as a well developed and mature view of what you can expect, with both the pluses and minuses which go with it.

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

  2. You’ve shared really very useful blog post to know about degrees challenges and opportunities, surely many people have read this information. Most comes square measure interconnected, sharing individuals, equipment, resources and deliverable. These dependencies mean that one project delay includes a important ripple impact on connected comes, disrupting schedules, inflicting resource conflicts and even triggering big-ticket contingencies, so as to reduce risks.

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