Are IT grads learning the right skills?

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.
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor
IT graduates are leaving UK universities without the business and technical competencies that employers need, according to silicon.com'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 silicon.com.

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