Are IT grads learning the right skills?

Are IT grads learning the right skills?

Summary: A UK jury of CIOs are asked for their verdict about whether universities are producing IT graduates who have learned the right skills to produce in the business world.

IT graduates are leaving UK universities without the business and technical competencies that employers need, according to's CIO Jury.

The majority of the jury said they believe universities are not producing IT graduates with the right skills for their businesses - bad news for graduates competing for the diminishing number of IT jobs.

Only four of the 12 IT chiefs said they feel tech graduates are finishing university with the expertise their companies are looking for.

Gavin Megnauth, director of operations and group IT at Morgan Hunt, said the subjects being taught in universities have not kept pace with the rate of change in the IT industry, including the widespread adoption of outsourcing.

"There has been a quantum leap forward in key aspects of IT over the past decade.

"It has been a fast moving era for our industry and understandably IT academia has not been able to keep pace to deliver us graduates who can hit the ground running, embracing real-world IT without… un-learning some of the dated rules of IT that they've been taught," he said.

Ben Acheson, IT manager at PADS Printing and Commercial Stationery, also believes IT graduates are not making the grade.

"I have seen people with more than one degree and even more than one Masters, who have virtually no knowledge of computers and in some cases an inability to form proper sentences," he said.

"How universities can give degrees to people like this is beyond me. They are devaluing and undermining the qualification."

For Mike Roberts, IT director at the London Clinic, graduates are falling down on their technical abilities.

"More coverage of the use of standard products and technologies in programming are needed. Also, there is a lack of infrastructure skills from MCSE-type experience to Unix system management," he said.

The biggest problem for Neil Hammond, head of IT at British Sugar, is finding university leavers with a broad enough range of both technical and other skills.

"It's surprisingly hard to find graduates which have a combination of the technical skills and the right soft skills.

"Broadly speaking, the role of staff in our IT department is to work with the business to deliver the systems that the business requires… so when looking for IT graduates we are looking for technical skills, leadership skills and collaboration skills."

The skills shortfall appears to be worsening: while the latest CIO Jury, two-thirds of the panel felt graduates did not have the right skills for business, in 2007 only a third of the CIO Jury found university teaching to be lacking.

If CIOs want a high caliber of candidate then they need to do some detective work about the courses offered by universities, according to Nicholas Bellenberg, IT director with publisher Hachette Filipacchi.

"When I have interviewed graduates, it was apparent that there was a vast difference in the course content available over all the universities," he said.

"Some are much more techie than others, whilst a few actually begin to address project management in a business context. So you need to do your research on the course, then ask focused questions of the graduate."

This CIO Jury was:

* Ben Acheson, IT manager, PADS Printing and Commercial Stationery
* Alastair Behenna, CIO, Harvey Nash
* Nicholas Bellenberg, IT director, Hachette Filipacchi
* Chris Ford, IT director, Nottingham City Council
* Steve Gediking, head of IT and facilities, Independent Police Complaints Commission
* Adam Gerrard, CIO, Avis Europe
* Ben Grinnell, IT director, Business Design and Development Directorate, UK Border Agency
* Neil Hammond, head of IT, British Sugar
* Gavin Megnauth, director of operations and group IT, Morgan Hunt
* Rob Neil, head of ICT and customer services, Ashford Borough Council
* Mike Roberts, IT director, The London Clinic
* Richard Storey, head of IT, Guy's & St Thomas' Hospital
This article was originally posted on

Topic: CXO


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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  • Not university level information

    The type of information they are referring to is not something that applies to a university level of education. What they are asking for is the specific skills on the implementation of technologies. For example, I can talk all day about certificates and the use of them in security, but if you ask me to work with them in StreetTalk, I can't help you. If I want to work in this area, I still need to learn the implementation of a specific vendor. They need to be looking to college grads, not university grads (I learned this a long time ago when I was hiring staff). The difference is that the college grad will not know the concepts behind the technology and may have some difficulty switching from vendor to vendor.
    • The problem is we need more majors, or at least new courses

      A CS grad gets a web dev job, but he doesn't know what HTTP is, or the difference between client side and server side code. That isn't vendor specific, those are basics that should be known before you start working.
  • "an inability to form proper sentences"

    Sadly this seems to be a common trend in the IT world or at least the developer world. Then again, the best developers have English as second language since American's suck at CS.

    Oh well, more money for me :)
    • Your own English skills being exempted, obviously...


      Not only is your arrogance cheap and unwarranted, it also suggests a sense of entitlement.

    • What world are you living in?

      "Then again, the best developers have English as second language since American's suck at CS.

      That statement is wrong in so many ways. 99% of all the technology used in IT and development originated in America buddy. If you actually believe what you say it just goes to show that your mind is incapable of understanding good logic. Don't get me wrong, talent can come from anywhere, but the only reason America has such a "shortage" of talented developers that we need to import developers and outsource is because America is still pumping out 99% of the technology used by the world, not because we suck at the industry we created.

      I'd watch what you say about American's. You piss off the wrong one and they just might decide to become president just so they could bomb whatever toilet of a country you're from for feeding you the anti-American propaganda you've obviously been exposed to. In other words, who in the hell do you think you are and who do you think you are kidding? Get real!
      • Americans

        "99% of all the technology used in IT and development originated in America buddy" "America is still pumping out 99% of the technology used by the world"
        Do you have a source for these statements or you're just talking out of your ***?
        "piss off the wrong one and they just might decide to become president" I doubt it, unless you piss of a rich one. With 1 in 8 americans living under poverty line this statement doesn't hold up. "they could bomb whatever toilet of a country you're from" Ah, the American solution for everything. If you disagree we'll just bomb the **** out of you. Tell me, is this what they call "the American way of life"? Pathetic. I'm already learning Mandarin. For the future you know.
        • Re: Americans

          "Do you have a source for these statements or you're just talking out of your ***?"

          You don't need a source for common sense, I'll name a few names though; IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Apple and Google, all still alive and strong powering nearly everything in the industry. Then there are zee Germans who developed SAP, which everyone hates working with because it is so overly complex.

          As for smaller software companies, 9 times out of 10 the American companies produce better software than their foreign competitors. I have no source for that statement, just experience in the industry and I dare you to try and prove it wrong.

          "I doubt it, unless you piss of a rich one. With 1 in 8 americans living under poverty line this statement doesn't hold up."

          The thing about that is that any American can become rich if they choose to. Pissing someone below the poverty line off enough may be all the motivation they need to realize that possibility and the rest is just running a good campaign.

          "If you disagree we'll just bomb the **** out of you. Tell me, is this what they call "the American way of life"?"

          Actually the American way of life encourages disagreement, but we'll still bomb the **** out of you if it suits our's or our leader's ends.

          "I'm already learning Mandarin. For the future you know."

          That's some future you're preparing for. No freedom of speech or religion, where if you disagree you'll be slaughtered or put in a death camp. Hippy-crite...
          • RE: Americans

            "IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Apple and Google" I'll name TomTom and MySQL (I know about the acquisition yeah) out of my head. "As for smaller software companies, 9 times out of 10 the American companies produce better software than their foreign competitors." I've experienced the industry and that's simply not true. Maybe you haven't worked with enough European companies.
            "any American can become rich if they choose to" Again this myth. Check this out: Here's a taste: "By international standards, the United States has an unusually low level of intergenerational mobility: our parents? income is highly predictive of our incomes as adults. Intergenerational mobility in the United States is lower than in France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Norway and Denmark. Among high-income countries for which comparable estimates are available, only the United Kingdom had a lower rate of mobility than the United States."
            Again, did you ever had a president that wasn't rich?
            "That's some future you're preparing for. No freedom of speech or religion, where if you disagree you'll be slaughtered or put in a death camp. Hippy-crite..." I'm being realistic not gloating or contesting your statement. About the hyppy-crite part, I'm sure that the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, etc.. are really happy for living with regimes that wouldn't exist if it wasn't for US support. Who's the hypocrite? Loser.
          • Center for American Progress???

            The Center for American Progress is a liberal public policy research and advocacy organization, which right or wrong has its own agenda to push. You can find other groups that will push out arguments in complete opposition to those found there. As for supporting those countries you mentions you are correct and I say that the US should stop supporting ALL nations but our own and see what happens. But back to the point of the discussion? As my grandfather used to say ? A lot of those coming out of college are book smart, every day dumb?
        • I do love a good argument even when it's a bad one

          99% of IT ... originated in America. Somehow I doubt it. But I'll be polite in replying.

          America's a big place. Lots of things to see and do. Most States are as big as countries in Europe. I think that implies that the average American is less well-travelled than his foreign 'buddies', and much more inward looking. Much less aware of the need to look outwards at global markets.

          Where to start?

          Some of the best programmers and a pretty fast growth area? India. On the back of a very traditional educational system (for the elite) and a very stong reputation in Mathematics. There as to be a reason why many companies are locating call centres there, and it's not simply money.

          Where did it all start? Who invented a recognisable computer? Zuse in Germany would have had something working in the early Forties had Hitler understood what he had.

          But this story refers to UK education, so let's get down to cases. The earliest working computers were in the UK but in conditions of such secrecy that the Americans fondly imagine they invented them :-)

          Tim Berners-Lee, the father of http, American, yes? No. Graham Smith, who was responsible for Livenote, the legal indexing software in use in most American companies? Yes, British.

          Some of the brightest and most successful developing IT companies are based around Cambridge (that's England by the way, not Mass)

          America has the financial clout to develop systems - but often by picking up research done elsewhere. Biggest doesn't necessarily mean best.
      • I think you just proved the article's point about 'lack of soft skills'

      • Who needs Anti-American Propaganda?

        With postings like this one, you can get all you need right in one place!

        It demonstrates the WORST stereotypes of Americans -- including: CONCEIT, ARROGANCE, IGNORANCE and AGRESSION in just a few lines.

        Unfortunately, these kind of minds are so far up their own butt -- nothing in heaven or on earth could ever extract them. No point to waste effort even trying. :(
        Marty R. Milette
  • RE: Are IT grads learning the right skills?

    Businesses are getting cheap and lazy. They want a school they don't have to pay for or financially support to churn out exactly the right person they need right now, so they can "right-size" them in 2-4 years.

    It should be a schools responsibility to provide basic skill sets that can be expanded in the real world. The school should NOT be responsible for churning out a specificity skilled individual that will be obsolete in 2-4 years.

    I have lost track of how many employers have asked me to be an expert on their own implementations. When I tell them I can be in about 2 weeks, they tell me it isn't good enough. I don't even ask for money to retrain, just some time to get up to speed but that isn't good enough.

    For me I have about a 2-4 week learning curve with technology that is related to slightly older technology, I do keep myself current but it sometimes seems that you just master a new technology and the next thing is already starting to get some buzz. Plus you never know what to learn until the tail end of the first adopters haven't decided the tech sucks.

    • Skills

      What I've found while pursuing my university IT degree is that the educational system in many ways does not encourage understanding of the concepts that drive IT, but rather rely on the student's ability to memorize information that may or may not be useful in the field. And since I currently work in IT, I have found that the information that is taught in class and forced into memory can be researched when needed while the information that is required for the most common day-to-day jobs is retiained and all else is lost. What colleges and universities should be teaching the students is not WHAT to learn, but HOW TO learn. With that knowledge, the student then retains the capability to react to any situation and evolve with the technology rather than get lost in all the hype.
  • RE: Are IT grads learning the right skills?

    I think this is an issue that affects more then just
    I.T grads. Universities in general have had declining
    standards for years.

    As I did my degree part-time over 8 plus years I saw
    class numbers triple in size. Quality of material and
    tutor's decline and a just tick the box attitude

    Universities sadly are rapidly becoming a numbers
    game, get more students, get them to pay more and spit
    them out. The quality has been in decline for many
    David Turner
  • No, they aren't

    One of the most important skills for IT folks to learn is people skills. And that's the one skill they often lack the most. Maybe because there's a such a large disconnect between the computer skills they have and the computer skills of their clients, but it seems like they always adopt an "us vs them" attitude on top of their inability to communicate properly. IT departments often appear to think that users work for them, not the other way around. They forget that they only exist to make user's lives easier.

    I'm generalizing here, obviously not every IT professional is like this, but a large number seem to fall into that category. And I'm kind of an impartial observer, being a software engineer. To me, the IT department is just another set of users (like data entry, telephony, etc.) which I design systems for.
  • RE: Are IT grads learning the right skills?


    When I was in college (CS), we studied classical languages (Ada, Pascal) and there were two sections (full semester) on Assembler.

    Now, I look at the curriculum at my Alma Mater and it's more like a vocational school.

    Sure, they teach you VS.Net & DreamWeaver, and I'm sure the students fret over the whole two lectures on assembler, but of the handful I've interviewed, none have shown the degree is worth much.
    • Times have changed

      I think the spectrum of IT knowledge has
      broadened since then. The problem is that it
      requires a specialized skill to work in IT, and
      Universities have a catch all degree plan. Why
      would some one spend a full semesters on
      assembler when all they are going to do is
      write reports in SQL? Or why should someone
      have to spend two semesters on Databases when
      all they're going to do is work on the network?
      Also, they shouldn't be teaching you a tool
      like VS.NET or Dreamweaver, they should be
      teaching you a language like C# and/or HTML.
    • I studied classical languages too

    • a cheap jibe ...

      ... but I'm trying to make a point here.

      Intake: I teach IT to students up to 18. Some time ago I spoke to an admissions tutor at Cambridge University, arguably one of the strongest universities in the world in Computing. My school sends a few kids there to do computing from time to time.

      Please bear in mind that in the UK we don't do SATS, we base university entrance on a small range of subjects.

      He (and his colleagues) are interested in ability in Maths and Physics because they say a lot about the right areas of intellect. He would prefer students to have studied French, Economics or English or whatever as a third option.

      He is specifically NOT interested in a school IT qualification. He claims that students drift towards subjects like English because they enjoy conversation, argument, and others drift towards IT because in many cases they lack these skills. A typical 'computer boffin' from school might have studied subjects like IT, Social Science, Geography, might have a deep love of computers from being on one a lot at home, and is not intellectually sharp enough to go to a top notch University to do computing.

      OK so now it looks like I have just insulted many members of this group. Please read what I said again.

      Some of those working in IT services are not people persons. Such people may progress through tech knowledge to small consultancies, but they are unlikely to develop the business and people skills to become full analysts, and less likely to strike out successfully into business for themselves.

      Out of this I'd like to raise a few of points

      Universities would be well advised to offer business or language courses alongside an IT qualification. Good people will work for multinationals or will expect to found their own companies eventually.

      Anything a University teaches an undergraduate is likely to be a few years behind the cutting edge. No surprise. Anything anyone teaches you in IT is likely to be out of date in 5 years anyway. And if you look at postgraduate work in IT that *IS* cutting edge: research partnerships between academia and business are commonplace in IT. Where do these expert postgrads come from, do you think?

      You go to university to learn to learn. There's a difference between teaching and training. Universities do teaching. If you want training go attend a training course. A law degree doesn't make you a practising lawyer ...

      Getting your head round good programming practice is more important than specific expertise - as VB developers have moved to Java, and have moved to C#, and have had to relearn windows APIs or Mac or Linux KDE or whatever. Universities give you the apparatus to do that.

      Graduates not understanding anything about http? Sounds apocryphal to me... must have graduated from Mickey Mouse University.

      Graduates who fail to write SOAP applications 5 minutes after they arrive in a company? No surprise and the company needs to look at itself if that's what they expect.