Survey: IT college grads not ‘ready to go’

Fifty-nine percent say they plan to hire new IT workers soon.

Many companies and college IT departments are ready to hire as the economy thaws, but more than nine in 10 college graduates who majored in information technology (IT) aren’t prepared for life in the workforce, according to a national survey.

Eight percent of new IT hires are “well trained” and “ready to go,” while 44 percent are “well trained” but have “gaps” in their skill set, according to respondents to a survey conducted by SHARE, an association of IT industry professionals, including colleges and universities.

Three in 10 IT companies said new hires were “severely deficient” business skills and are often in need of remedial training from superiors.

IT know-how wasn’t the problem for many recent IT college graduates, according to the report and a SHARE official, but rather interpersonal skills that proved lacking. Problem solving was the most critical area of need for IT companies, with 77 percent of respondents saying new hires needed that skill.

Seven in 10 said new IT workers needed critical thinking skills, and 61 percent pointed to writing and communication skills.

College and university IT professors are providing students with essential technical skills, but educators could help students develop business acumen, said Ray Sun, director of marketing for SHARE, which has more than 2,000 member companies in its association.

“These are skills that you can practice,” Sun said. “[Colleges need to] create an environment where that can be practiced and coached. I don’t think that’s something that you can stand up and lecture about. … It’s just like a management skill, but until you actually practice it I don’t think you really absorb it.”

A workforce of new IT graduates “ready to go” in the professional world has become more critical as the slumping U.S. economy has improved and companies become more willing to hire.

Fifty-nine percent of respondents said they were either “currently hiring or planning to hire programmers and developers in the coming months,” according to the SHARE report.

Half of companies surveyed said they would soon hire database professionals, 36 percent said they would hire analysts and architects, and 43 percent plan on hiring systems programmers and systems analysts.

A programmer from a ban that responded to the SHARE survey said told the association that “many folks have some technical skills, but not enough skills to deal with political interests, poor architecture, or kingdom builders.”

A customer information control systems (CICS) specialist for the federal government said that IT students should be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances and coworkers in the work place.

“Each environment is hardly ever a cookie cutter type and will always require hands-on training to get acquainted,” the federal CICS said.

Sun said the thawing job market could mean many new jobs in the IT field in the coming months, and IT professors and instructors should urge students to pursue careers in technology, even if it’s not in video game developing or other high-profile areas.

“If you work for a bank, it’s not glamorous, but with a steady paycheck and a pretty limitless growth path, that’s something the universities should be able to sell,” he said. “Making it sound like it’s cool to be in IT is something that we can do a better job of.”

The SHARE survey results reflect a message trumpeted last year by Wayne Brown, vice president of IT at Excelsior College, an online school based in New York. Brown, who leads Excelsior’s Center for Technology Leadership (CTL), said IT workers who want to one day be a chief information officer need to focus primarily on their interpersonal skills.

“They need to translate the techno-babble,” Brown said at the CTL’s first in-person training program hosted at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Md. last fall.

A lack of communication, Brown said, “is the one thing that can really drive us into a ditch,” creating tension between the IT department and the rest of the university or business.

Robert Loyot, IT director at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., said even an IT employee with a world-class education and top-notch technical skills wouldn’t succeed without communicating with company or university decision makers.

“You have to have that in-depth knowledge about senior-level people and how they talk,” he said. “We need to be able to understand business talk and know what they really mean … or we’re at a disadvantage.”