Career specialisation too early, says expert

Geek image, misperception and exaggeration of dotcom crash also blamed for falling student roll

A government and industry-sponsored ICT education and training “framework” may be driving students into narrow subject areas too early, says a career guidance specialist.

Angela Christie, of Engineers NZ careers guidance project FutureIntech, spoke on this theme at a panel discussion earlier this month on causes and remedies for the drastic shortage of new recruits for the industry.

Garry Roberton, of the Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) pointed to the Fluency in IT (FITNZ) project as one attempt that has been made to arouse interest among potential students and inculcate appropriate skills.

Christie, however, suggests the framework specialises students too early. In view, particularly, of the changing nature of the industry, it would work better to offer a more general introduction to ICT and the business problems it is supposed to be solving, she says.

A misperception of what is involved in IT is part of the problem, suggests Professor Sid Huff, of Victoria University, Welllington. School students’ ideas of computing typically revolve around particular applications such as spreadsheets or databases, he says. The analysis of business strategies, which comes before the technical IT, is typically not on students’ radar and greater awareness of it might attract a different kind of student who would be more readily employable and productive.

At university, suggested another VUW professor, John Hine, the sheer amount of material to be covered in an ICT course — and its rapid growth — discourages students from also taking course units in business administration and commerce.

Hine puts part of the blame on the impression of ICT created by the media, entertainment and advertising, exemplified by the four “geeks” featuring in Xtra’s broadband promotions.

Few potential recruits, especially female ones, would want to join an industry they believed to be peopled by such characters, he says.

Early internship was suggested as one solution to giving students exposure to what working in ICT really means.

Law and accounting firms, it was agreed, swoop on promising students as early as their second year with offers of holiday work and even scholarships; the ICT industry is laggardly in this respect.

The alleged impact of the dot.com crash of 2000 has been blamed for putting people off ICT, but Hine claimed to show, with a graph of the number of vacancies in the industry year on year, that the setback was relatively minor, certainly no bigger than a number of other less remarked-on fluctuations before and since.

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