In response to my recent column challenging employers to step up to (and stop whining about) the IT "skills shortage," I received thoughtful letters from current and former IT pros, consultants, integrators, academics, and vendor executives. What follows are their perspectives from the front lines. In short: They're not happy with what they see.
Several readers exhorted employers to engage with local high schools, technical schools, junior colleges, and universities to help refine their technical curricula as well as create internships and other work programs.
Mel Whiteside, director of engineering technology at Wichita State University, says community and technical colleges, in general, "love partnering with industry and providing low-cost, high-skilled training, whether it is in IT or other technical fields. This is one of the reasons they exist." Whiteside previously taught engineering design and AutoCAD for eight years at a community college outside of Wichita.
What frustrates him, he says, is that local tech employers would rather "whine and complain about skills shortages" than make the time and resource commitment to partnering with and advising local schools. "Business and industry must--yes, must--connect with and take advantage of their regional, taxpayer-supported community and technical colleges (and in some cases local universities) to attain the type of skilled worker they need," Whiteside says.
One positive example is INTER Alliance, a partnership set up in 2006 between Cincinnati-area employers and educators. INTER Alliance aims to "create a renowned, thriving, and sustainable pool of IT talent" in the region that "not only fulfills local demand, but also is strong enough to actually attract new employers."
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Member organizations, including Procter & Gamble, Kroger, Toyota, Microsoft, and Chiquita, work with local high schools and universities on IT courses, mentoring programs, career camps, Olympics-style competitions, paid internships, and work co-ops. One of the many benefits of INTER Alliance, says reader Andrew Young, a Kroger business analyst who brought the program to my attention, is that it helps students "see that even grocery companies like Kroger rely heavily on technology."
If your local CIO group isn't involved with such a program, it needs to start one--and start publicizing it. One reader who works at a community college didn't know where to begin looking for industry partners. For starters, I pointed him toward his local Chamber of Commerce and the national Society for Information Management (which has many local chapters).
Jim Downs, CEO of Chicago-based Connamara Systems, which develops custom applications for the financial trading industry, says his company typically hires candidates with undergraduate computer science or computer engineering degrees and two to four years of experience. But for less-rigorous programming jobs, he recommends that companies bring in bright high school grads who might not be interested in attending a four-year college, pay them a living wage, and train them as part of an apprenticeship program.
"Maybe this training program is only 18 months with real on-the-job experiences," he says. "At the end of the program, a job would be waiting. Hopefully, the best of the class can start contributing value to the company during the training program."
Downs says Connamara, which now has two openings for software engineers, "isn't quite large enough to take on such an effort, but we have started internal training programs to re-tool employees to help fill our shortages."