Skills gap prompts new call for IT training body

A mismatch of applicants' skills, even when they have been through a tertiary ICT course, is more of a problem than numbers, says CIO

A gap between the ICT skills learned at university and those practised in workplaces is handicapping the recruitment of graduates, said panellists at the 25th conference on tertiary-sector ICT, held in Wellington at the end of August.

Alison Fleming, CIO at the Department of Conservation and formerly leader of information strategy at the Department of Internal Affairs, says a mismatch of applicants’ skills, even when they have been through a tertiary ICT course, is more of a problem than numbers.

“We get a lot of applicants, but not many will be acceptable,” she told the conference audience.

One plea, coming from several panellists, is for an industry training organisation (ITO) to formalise messages about opportunities in the ICT industry and help coordinate training. An “ITITO” was contemplated several years ago as an outgrowth of the electrotechnology ITO, but the plans never took shape. ETITO handles some aspects of telecommunications training.

Applicants typically have “grossly inflated expectations” both in pay and in the nature of the work they think they will be doing, Fleming said, and they appear particularly deficient in the skills necessary to work in a team.

Management in the recruiting organisation must do its part, however, she said. A good constructive manager who offers opportunities and plans for development is one of the biggest factors in retaining good staff once you’ve got them.

Lorraine Sinclair, Gen-i’s Wellington service manager, said the Telecom IT services subsidiary has had success bringing graduates straight off a vendor’s course or from the helpdesk and simply sending them out on customer calls with a more experienced employee.

Recruitment specialist Ben Pearson, another of the panellists, estimated the academe-industry gap is as much as four years.

He reiterated the theme he explored in Computerworld last month that the popularity of ICT as a career moves in phases. These have been sparked to date by temporary or even artificial excitements such as client-server architecture, the Y2K controversy and the dot.com boom, all of which have been followed by disillusionment among business and potential recruits.

Recent growth, however, is based on a more genuine and enduring maturity of the industry, he suggests. This mature outlook of ICT as a competent and productive element of business success should be more widely promulgated, Pearson says.

However, some job aspirants have wrong ideas about commercial ICT, bred of their experience with recreational use of technology or media-generated images of computer experts, said members of the audience. This may put some off joining the industry or give others unrealistic expectations.

One suggested answer was that industry should come onto the campus more often to give a fuller picture of what ICT is about. “We should be starting with the kids in school,” said Steve Sorsby of UCOL. Local employers should be prepared to offer apprenticeships, he says.

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Tags industry training organisationICT coursestertiaryskills gap

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