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IT Skills Gap Revealed in New Survey

If the economy has truly moved into expansion mode, we can expect organizations will be hiring IT staff -- including college graduates. The question is, do college graduates have the skills IT needs, or will they need additional training once on the job? The results of a recent survey will likely worry hiring managers.

Closing the IT Skills Gap: 2011 SHARE Survey for Guiding University and College IT Agendas, a new survey of 376 employers conducted in conjunction with SHARE, the independent IBM users group, reports that organizations are counting on higher education to produce “graduates with specific IT skills in enterprise programming languages and mainframe administration skills.”

The survey found that 82 percent of organizations look for colleges and universities to train students in database skills; 76 percent want analysis and architecture skills. Topping the “pure” business skills needed: problem solving (according to 77 percent of respondents), critical thinking (70 percent), writing/communication (61 percent), interpersonal communications (59 percent), and project management (57 percent). Unfortunately, nearly a third (32 percent) of respondents say the business skill level of candidates from colleges and universities today is “unsatisfactory.”

Few enterprises are “entirely satisfied” with the current crop of graduates; only 11 percent “would rate their IT hires’ technical proficiency as ‘well-trained, ready to go.’” Fully one-fourth (26 percent) of respondents say that programming/development skills of candidates from colleges and universities is “unsatisfactory.” That’s an important benchmark, given that about half of companies hire new IT employees “straight out of school, with relatively little actual working experience.” Two-thirds of firms are looking for students who have been interns, and “most would like to see at least a year of on-the-job experience” on a candidate’s résumé. Education is important: 65 percent of firms require at least a bachelor’s degree.

Programmers and developers are being sought by 60 percent of respondents. Organizations are looking for skills “in application server environments, database languages, and Java;” COBOL is still a popular requirement in 4 of every 10 hiring firms.

IT administration skills that top list of in-demand skills include “backup and recovery, storage administration, security, and disaster recovery.” More than half of companies surveyed are looking for project management, analytics/business intelligence, and enterprise architecture talent.

The survey looked beyond technical skills. Research analyst Joseph McKendrick, the study’s author, points out that “employers also want well-rounded, business-savvy employees as well. As one respondent, an IT executive with a western retailer, put it, ‘People need to understand the “big picture” of how computers work, from the deep level programming to how that affects -- and interconnects with -- applications, servers, and other things in the data center.’”

Business skills are important -- but lacking. One-third of respondents say they’re looking for “professionals and managers [who] can bridge the divides between IT departments and business leaders.” However, only 8 percent rate the business proficiency of IT new hires as “well-trained, ready to go;” 44 percent said candidates are sufficiently trained but have skill gaps. Almost a third (31 percent) rate business proficiency of new IT hires as “not sufficiently trained, remedial, or hands-on training usually required.”

The survey found that 37 percent are “distressed by the lack of business proficiency they see IT hires bring into the organization (e.g., analytics, problem-solving, understanding processes).” An IT executive at a financial services company sums it up well, noting, “Most [university and college] programs are programming-specific and completely ignore how the future candidate will integrate in a complex organization.”

Companies will likely have to pick up the training today’s higher-education institutions don’t provide. Topping the list of strategies enterprises employ today to develop IT talent: corporate training and development (46 percent), use of outside consultants or outsourcers (38 percent), partnerships with colleges and universities (37 percent), and partners with vendors (26 percent).

Organizations had a diverse IT infrastructure, mixing mainframes, Windows, Linux, and Unix systems.

Conducted in January 2011, the survey queried responses from both the technical staff and managers. About 29 percent of respondents were IT executives and managers, and 31 percent were analysts, programmers, or administrators. About 28 percent were from organizations with fewer than 1,000 employees; over a third (36 percent) or organizations had over 10,000 employees.

-- James E. Powell
Editorial Director, ESJ

Posted by Jim Powell on 02/28/2011 at 11:53 AM