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How MBA Programs are Adapting to the Age of AI

Canadian business schools are integrating AI-focused specializations and courses into their MBA programs, equipping future leaders with the skills to navigate and leverage AI’s transformative impact on businesses

July 4, 2024

When the Canadian federal government recently announced an investment of $2.4 billion to build artificial intelligence (AI) capacity, it was another sign of the prevalence the technology will have in our homes, businesses and communities. As the drive to adopt AI accelerates, so, too, will demand for talent—and not just in tech. Businesses will need specialists who grasp the strategic purpose of implementing AI while addressing its broader ethical and societal implications.

Canada leads the world in developing AI-focused talent, which has risen, on average, 38 per cent year over year between 2017 and 2023, outpacing the United States, according to a Deloitte Canada report. But technical know-how alone is not enough for large-scale adoption. Understanding the key concepts of AI will be necessary across all layers of an organization to leverage its full potential. This offers a unique opportunity, and challenge, for the next generation of MBA graduates—many of whom will be on the front lines of this sweeping change. 

Reshaping MBA programs for an AI-driven future

Business schools are already adapting their MBA program offerings to address the growing demand for this skill set. The University of Calgary Haskayne School of Business has introduced two MBA specializations that address AI and emerging technologies. 

“The first is business intelligence and data analytics, which is a deep dive into advanced tools. The second is management analytics, which is more generally applied across the various areas of business and is focused on applying analytics and AI,” says Dr. Raymond Patterson, a professor of business technology management for the Haskayne School of Business. “Each specialization is four courses, and students that take both specializations would be extremely well versed in both the tools and applications of business analytics and AI.” 

In a report on generative AI’s impact on the workforce, Accenture says, "Success with generative AI requires an equal attention on people and training as it does on technology. This means both building talent in technical competencies like AI engineering and enterprise architecture, and training people across the organization to work effectively with AI-infused processes." 

Preparing the next generation of business leaders

CIFAR, Canada’s global research community in the field of AI, actively cultivates talent, in part, through three national AI institutes—the Vector Institute in Toronto, Amii in Edmonton and Mila in Montreal. While training is offered by the institutes, they also recognize the role of universities. The Vector Institute recognizes over 25 master programs in Ontario that focus on AI, including three business schools with MBA curriculums that equip graduates with key competencies in AI and business: Rotman School of Business, Smith School of Business and Schulich School of Business. 

For MBA students who are curious, but not ready to commit to an AI-specific program of study, some schools offer electives to build foundational knowledge, without the technical deep dive. The Haskayne School of Business launched a course called Generative AI and Prompting,” that’s open to MBA students, undergrads and PhDs. “It focuses on understanding the landscape of generative AI technologies, learning effective prompt engineering, and applications of large language models for writing, data analytics and software development with code and no-code tools. The course also covers applications of diffusion models for image generation,” says Patterson. 

MBA graduates will be launching their post-graduate careers during a time of momentous and exciting change. A working knowledge of AI will be increasingly necessary to confidently lead organizations in the coming decade. And, it’s up to business schools to help equip them with the skills needed for success.