IBM-Marist Survey Emphasizes Technology in Education and Careers
March 16, 2009 Dan Burger
What are college students making a priority when it comes to career choices? You might be surprised. Technology skills are foremost in many young minds. These are skills that can be advanced, and skills that can be turned into a job. They have staying power, but only if you keep them current and in tune with business trends. What was hot 10 years ago may not be so hot today.
One thing that’s changed is the emphasis on technology in education beyond high school. Enrollment in technology courses at colleges and universities has been on the decline for years, but it could be poised for a comeback.
In a recent survey of more than 1,600 college students conducted as a joint effort between IBM and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, a survey research center at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, more than 50 percent say they are putting an emphasis on technology skills before they graduate. And eight out of 10 expect the job market for IT professionals will expand due to the spreading impact of technology in all types of business. A similar 80 percent say they expect to encounter new technology once they enter the workforce–technology they will need to learn, adapt to, and master. Six out of 10 said life-long experience with the Internet and social networking tools have not only imprinted technology into their everyday lives, it also drives them to gain formal training that makes use of the skills they have acquired.
The pervasiveness of technology (of the commercial variety, mind you) is demonstrated by survey results that show 99 percent of students carry a cell phone, 93 percent have their own laptop, and 97 percent have a profile on a social networking site.
The skills the students most often cited as being important for career advancement were technology, writing, and marketing. What’s needed most is the strong tie-in between technology and business in the curriculum being taught and a demonstrated job market that opens doors to those who prepare wisely.
IBM is putting these survey results to work. The statistics, although somewhat vague, are being used to support Big Blue’s Academic Initiative efforts to help raise the awareness of technology-oriented jobs and marketable skills, and therefore stimulate changes in curriculum that will better prepare students for the workplace. And get them using IBM midrange and mainframe platforms to boot.
Since 2004, IBM’s Academic Initiative program has reached more than 2.5 million university students with software and hardware courses. IBM partners with more than 9,000 academics at 4,600 colleges and universities worldwide.
One example is San José State University where new technology topics are finding their way into core courses in the College of Business.
“Increasingly, we’re moving towards smarter infrastructures that promise to fundamentally change the way we live and work,” said Stephen Kwan, professor of management information Systems at San Jose State University’s College of Business. “There has never been a better opportunity to ensure we are arming our students with the smart skills for the jobs of the future. We need to develop curriculum that meets the evolving needs of our students and their employers.”
From the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where Karen Hayes is the industrial liaison between the local business community and the university, another successful testimony is provided. “We hear from companies all the time that need students with a diverse technology skillset. This diversity creates greater opportunity for students, and a better prepared workforce for employers.”
Companies in the emerging green tech and clean tech spaces also cite the need for employees with specialized skill sets to help build out smarter energy grids and wireless sensors.
“We are facing a very unique situation with the emergence of a digital grid and smart buildings,” notes Peter Van Deventer, president and CEO of SynapSense Corporation. SynapSense, based near Sacramento, California, is a provider of wireless instrumentation solutions for energy-efficient data centers, and is poised to benefit from stimulus funding for smart grid projects.
“What we will see is an emerging blend of skills that cross over between the facility and the technology infrastructure itself. And this means we will need a workforce with a balanced set of skills,” he said.
Certainly, the U.S. government call to modernize the nation’s technology infrastructure is helping to shine the light on technology. There hasn’t been anything quite like this since the early years of the space race. It has immense media coverage and those paying attention have seen that technology will play a huge role in industries such as healthcare, utilities, and telecom as records go digital, efficient energy practices are put into effect, and broadband networks are expanded. As a result, companies will look to hire more software developers, IT consultants, and managers who possess both the technology and business skills necessary to support these investments.
“The survey results show that students understand they need the ability to leverage technology for their employers across many careers,” says Mark Hanny, vice president of IBM’s Academic Initiative.
Hanny explains many companies today want “T-shaped employees,” meaning those with a broad knowledge base that can be applied across the business, but also a deep understanding of their specific field, such as engineering or nursing. Such demands in the workforce partly drive universities to offer interdisciplinary courses among engineering, computer science and business schools, for instance.
“Studying IT and technology in a broader sense is the right approach; it helps students understand how technology is applied to various businesses to help streamline operations,” he says.
Marist College has a well-established partnership with IBM. According to the Marist Web site, the arrangement “has helped place Marist among the most technologically advanced liberal arts colleges in the country.” One element of the partnership has been a 14-year joint study arrangement, which IBM uses to test concepts and applications that may be of value in education, business, digital media, communications, and other fields. (Marist is also a center of mainframe software development, and where Linux and now Solaris were first ported to mainframes.)
The IBM-Marist online survey included 1,613 college-enrolled undergraduates nationwide. Its objective was to assess American college students’ perceptions of their education, skillsets, career goals, and technology. It was conducted last fall, from November 4 through 17.