7 key skills new IT grads are lacking

New tech graduates are smart, their IT managers say, but they still need coaching in these crucial areas.

new tech hires lack some skills

Greg Taffet is scouting for talent.

Taffet, the CIO of U.S. Gas & Electric Inc. in North Miami Beach, Fla., brought on four new staffers in the past six months and is looking to add 11 more to his current team of 20. His list of open positions includes an EDI programmer, a risk management programmer, a CRM programmer, a business analyst and an assistant IT manager.

Taffet says he doubts any new college grad could easily fill any of those roles. Undergraduate and graduate programs aren't able to keep up with the needs of enterprise IT shops, he says.

"It's a horrible statement to say, but there's just not enough time to [learn in college] all the skills that people need to be successful. We are expecting more and more, and universities are supplying more, but we're asking for still more," Taffet says.

What "more" do Taffet and other IT leaders want? They continue to value the "soft skills" -- particularly communication skills, customer service skills and an understanding of how to behave professionally -- that have topped their list for years.

They're also now encountering several gaps in specific business and technical skills. Computerworld surveyed IT managers to find out what skills they wish their newest hires had picked up while they were still in college.

Read on, and take notes -- there may be a pop quiz after.

Wanted: An understanding of basic business functions

Sure, new computer science grads can program, but do they understand accounts receivables, logistics and operations, or marketing plans?

Probably not, says Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), headquartered in Downers Grove, Ill.

That's because most students in computer science undergraduate programs still do the majority of their coursework within that field of study -- even though many tech grads end up in corporate IT positions where they're expected to develop applications to facilitate the work done by other departments. And while IT programs at the graduate level are better at getting students into business courses, there can still be a knowledge gap.

Colleges also are starting to address the problem, says Brian Janz, an MIS professor at the University of Memphis's Fogelman College of Business and Economics and associate director of the university's FedEx Center for Supply Chain Management.

The university is in its second year of following the IS 2010 model curriculum designed by the Association for Information Systems (AIS) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), which calls for teaching tech students both IT skills and professional skills such as communication and leadership.

The switch has brought more business studies into the MIS coursework, Janz says. "There are always going to be gaps that are going to be very specific to the hiring organization, but we can make sure the foundation is there," Janz says. "If we can give them the sound foundation, [businesses] can give them the stuff specific to their organization."

In the meantime, IT leaders have developed strategies to ensure their new employees have basic business acumen. Taffet, for example, seeks out new grads with some professional work experience -- and a corresponding understanding of how a business operates -- although he says they're often snapped up quickly by others.

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