Jacinta Whelan, managing director of Resources Global Professionals (Asia-Pacific), agrees that the economic downturn has highlighted the role of project management within organisations. “The global financial crisis has prompted companies to look at their internal structures, processes and procedures,” she says. Project management skills thus become highly valued in this transition period. “It is unusual for companies to have transformation skills in-house, so external experts will be in demand.”
Whelan observes an undercurrent of increased demand for project management expertise: “Clients, who may have laid off staff and contractors during the GFC, are reaching a critical point on key projects where they need to get people in to assist.”
The next generation
Another shift taking place is demographic. Cox predicts that Asia will become a prominent area of growth for the industry and the increasing institutionalisation in the region will be key.
Project management education has also shown a surge in interest, notes Martin Hale, adjunct senior lecturer at Charles Sturt University and CEO of IT Masters. “We had very little happening in terms of project management five years ago. Today, we’ve had a full Master of Project Management accredited, including the industry certifications. It’s quite an expensive, resource-intensive process, and we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t see strong demand for it,” he says.
“The demand has been caused by the employers. A lot of employers now are putting down project management as a risk mitigation strategy, as they should for major systems. But you can’t do that unless you have qualified people doing the project management. It’s a flow on from doing things project-based, to a methodology, and having qualified people doing it.”
Another strong trend is towards certification, not just from existing project management practitioners but also from postgraduates doing MBAs to help with their management. But project management has not quite reached that kind of demand at undergraduate level, Hale observes, which indicates newcomers tend to enter from related fields rather than choose it as a career option after leaving school.
“There’s a marketing issue there. Younger people don’t know what a great career area it is, which I think is a shame; you could certainly do a marketing campaign,” says Hale.
Nevertheless, project management will grow as an industry and more people will come around to seeing that it’s the way to do things, he believes.
Cox says project management could engage more with related industries, which would strengthen it as a profession by showing both its connections and demonstrating its differences as there’s some way to go before the person on the street has an understanding of the discipline as a discrete profession.
So the diagnosis is good; project management has a strong foundation from which to progress at both an industry level, and more widely to the general public. The next step? Showing the world that it’s a discipline worth investing in.