Academy program to plug 'real-world' gap

Microsoft introduces initiative aimed at helping Malaysian education institutions bring relevant IT skills into curriculum and ensuring local graduates are "employable".
Written by Lee Min Keong, Contributor

KUALA LUMPUR--Software giant Microsoft has introduced an initiative aimed at helping Malaysia grapple with the growing problem of unemployed IT graduates, by collaborating with local universities to provide IT training and certification.

To date, 28 universities and colleges in the country have signed up for the Microsoft IT Academy program, including 22 institutions that joined the program in the last two months, Lutz Ziob, general manager of Microsoft Learning, said at a recent press briefing here.

It is not uncommon to see the educational system and employment system being a little out of whack.
Lutz Ziob, Microsoft

The IT Academy program is expected to benefit thousands of Malaysian college students by enabling them to experience real-world challenges in a classroom environment, according to the software giant. Through the program, training institutions will be able to link their curriculum to the working world, enabling faculty members and students to acquire new technology skills in an academic setting.

Ziob said the IT Academy program offers a comprehensive technology curriculum to help students learn the IT skills they need. Other program benefits include free use of software for teaching purposes, course textbooks, and hundreds of hours of multimedia e-learning materials. The institutions will only need to pay a token sum annually to participate in the program.

"It is not uncommon to see the educational system and employment system being a little out of whack," the Microsoft executive said. "It's a problem in the IT field because the pace of development cycles is so fast that it is virtually impossible for a college or university to be always up to speed with the latest technology developments."

He added that the IT Academy program aims to alleviate this problem as it would augment traditional IT curriculum adopted by the local universities. "Universities should continue what they are doing for [IT] learning, but [they should] make sure their graduates are immediately employable," he said.

"For example, with the IT Academy program, they will learn what the Microsoft SQL Server database does and how to install it, or to engage in deployment of mobile communications technology," Ziob said. He added that Microsoft would also be giving "huge discounts" to students and teachers who wish to sit for the software vendor's certification examinations.

Techies stay unemployed
Malaysia's IT sector is in a quandary as thousands of computer science graduates remain unemployed, despite the fact that there are unfilled job vacancies in the industry. Statistics from the Human Resources Ministry in 2006 revealed that computer science graduates comprised the biggest group--at 19.5 percent--among unemployed graduates who registered with the ministry. Graduates from business administration and management, at 18.5 percent, make up the second largest group, followed by engineering graduates at 15.3 percent.

According to tech companies here, there is a dearth of IT graduates with the necessary knowledge and skills coming out of local universities and colleges.

"There is certainly no shortage of people out there looking for IT jobs," said Lim Fun Jin, technical director of ISA Technologies, a regional IT services provider. "What we are struggling [to deal] with is the huge gap in terms of talent and relevancy to what we do in our business."

"When we look at the resource pool in the industry, especially the fresh graduates, we see a huge gap in terms of what they have studied versus what we require for them to have relevance in the job," Lim said at the media briefing. "It has been a challenge for us in terms of finding this kind of right people."

"For example, in most university curriculums, they do teach software engineering and development and students know a bit about writing code. But if you look at other kinds of specialization such as server infrastructure or Active Directory, which are very widely used in the market place, fresh IT graduates have very little background in these areas. They have no clue what these things are," he said.

The IT industry, Ziob noted, not only has to deal with the lack of potential candidates, it also faces the challenge of finding the right people. "We need bright, motivated, capable people and [we need to keep] them updated in their skill sets," he said.

Microsoft is also looking to close the IT talent gap in Malaysia through its Microsoft Certification program, he added, noting that some 10,000 people in the country sit through the software vendor's certification examinations each year. Globally, this number totals about 1 million each year, of which 450,000 are from the Asian region, Ziob said. India produces the highest number of people seeking Microsoft certification, followed by China, he added.

Lee Min Keong is a freelance IT writer based in Malaysia.

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