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Standing Up For The IT Career Path

Why aren't more American kids going into IT-related fields? Many IT pros have a one-word answer: outsourcing. Fear of IT jobs being wiped out by cheaper labor abroad has spooked them from the field, they reason.

The U.S. IT community hasn't done enough to stem those fears or the slide in IT-related enrollment, which is down 50% or more at some schools in recent years. The Society For Information Management is trying to change that with two projects rolled out last week.

One is a program in partnership with Microsoft to visit college campuses and woo more students into pursuing careers in technology. Called Accelerate IT, it will feature half-day seminars aimed at persuading students that there's a lot of opportunity left in the field. It will start in New York City on Oct. 5 at Pace University, with a second event planned for December in Boston at Northeastern University. Next year's goal is at least 10 seminars on campuses in other cities, says Phil Zwieg, VP of IS at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. and an executive board member of SIM, whose 3,000 members include CIOs, IT executives, academics, and technology leaders.

SIM is doing more than lecture, though: It's conducting research to determine what skills the students it persuades to enter IT should have.

SIM tapped some 20 academics for a study led by Kate Kaiser, a professor of IT at Marquette University, in which they interviewed 95 executives within 82 organizations. Project planning, budgeting, and scheduling top the critical skills needed in-house, participants say. Functional-area, company, and industry knowledge, as well as user-relations skills all will be more important in 2008 than they are today.

A few SIM chapters are doing their own programs, including the Memphis chapter, which did a one-week summer IT camp for 16 students, ages 12 to 15.

Small steps against a big problem. But at least it's one group moving forward.

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