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.

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"When you started 20 years ago, you were forced to learn this, but as computers evolved, people ignored this basic stuff. Yet there can be a strong need for it when you're troubleshooting computers" -- a task that's often part of an entry-level IT job, Bowden notes.

Bowden says he often leaves his new hires to figure out what to do on their own when faced with basic tech problems. "Our preference is getting them to learn how to do it, Googling it, and so on. Then it's something they own," he says. "Once you have your hands-on [experience] a few times, then you know the technology," he said, adding that he'll get a more senior staff member to teach a new hire if time is short.

Wanted: Familiarity with legacy systems

Modis's Sylvester says businesses are looking for people who can work on legacy systems. They want tech workers who know Cobol, Customer Information Control System (CICS) and other mainframe skills. But colleges aren't teaching them anymore, Sylvester says.

"There's a real concern that some of the mainframe skills that companies will be losing as the boomers retire aren't being taught in the universities at all," adds Jerry Luftman, executive director and distinguished professor at the School of Technology Management at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. Luftman says some companies ask their legacy vendors to train new hires directly on the existing systems.

Luftman and Sylvester both say that companies are seeking out college grads willing to learn legacy systems, although it's not an easy task to find them. They say that companies are trying to entice new workers to learn mainframe skills by making the case that a recent college graduate who's up on both the latest technologies and legacy systems will be doubly marketable.

"The skills to support legacy systems are marketable to many large organizations -- corporations, government, service providers," Luftman says, although recent grads "might not always see the bigger picture or long-term opportunity at such a young age."

Wanted: Real-world perspective

IT exec Dale Denham says, in his experience, new college graduates tend to think in a tunnel, concentrating on the best technology without considering what's best for the company's fiscal constraints or employee population.

"I have a lot of people who, for example, know how to design the best-looking database on paper [or] the best utilization for storage, but they're not looking at the fact that user experience will be impacted," says Denham, CIO of Geiger, a Lewiston, Maine-based company that distributes promotional products.

"They don't know how to balance IT with what the business needs. Or they might not realize the cost of doing something, the time it takes, the skills required," he adds. Most hires pick those skills up on the job, but "the schools could set the foundation for it."

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