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Job Skills: Preparing Generation Z

CIOs say college graduates aren't ready for corporate IT jobs. Now some progressive universities are doing something about it.

By Thomas Hoffman
August 25, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Ask CIOs to give the nation's colleges and universities a report card on how they're preparing the next generation of IT professionals, and they'd respond with a pretty dismal grade.

"If I had to grade graduate programs on what they're delivering, I'd give them a B-minus and a C-plus for undergraduate programs," says George Voutes, enterprise technology programs manager at Deutsche Asset Management Technology, a New York-based division of Deutsche Bank AG.

"We have to get away from strict programming and systems development," says Voutes. "Those are skills to get into the field, but we have to train our technology people to think more like business people and arm them with strong communications skills."

A Computerworld survey of 244 IT professionals found that three quarters of them say academia isn't preparing graduates for the IT jobs of today or the next few years (see charts, below). The survey, plus interviews with CIOs, indicated that the shortcomings are in the areas of business skills, troubleshooting skills, interpersonal communication, project management and systems integration.

And given the thousands of unemployed IT professionals flooding the market who have at least a couple of years of work experience, CIOs and hiring managers are being more selective than ever.

"If you asked me this in 2000, my answer would have been completely different. We don't hire people into our company anymore straight out of college," says Ken Harney, a vice president at Ness USA, a global IT consultancy in Hackensack, N.J. "There aren't as many of those types of development projects around today, and those jobs can be filled easier" with people who already have business experience, he added. "I don't need a person out of college to do that. It's a whole new ballgame."

Indeed, during the height of the dot-com boom, companies were actively recruiting computer science and graduate students in the fall semesters of their final year — or earlier. Now "the recruiting process is taking longer," and enrollment among MBA candidates with IS concentrations has dropped 50% since 2000, says Andrew Whinston, professor of information systems, economics and computer science at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin. "When the Nasdaq bubble burst, so did our enrollment. It's a nationwide phenomenon."

That's partly why McCombs and other top business schools such as MIT, UCLA's Anderson School of Management, Stevens Institute of Technology, Babson College, The Fox School of Business and Management at Temple University and Ohio State University's (OSU) Fisher College of Business are forging closer ties with industry to ensure that they're developing the kinds of skills being sought by the private sector.

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