Education And Enterprise Computing Not Passing The Test
July 24, 2017 Dan Burger
The education-to-employment system flat out fails for most employers and young people seeking employment. Let’s introduce that elephant in the room right now. It’s not a dry well, but it’s not close to being what it should be. It’s much bigger than the IBM i community. It’s bigger than the IT industry. But it certainly is a factor in filling positions at IBM i shops. The mismatch between colleges and the needs of the job market is apparent.
There are expectations and finger-pointing on both sides: the educational system and the employers. What there doesn’t seem to be is the necessary collaboration.
Employability is an issue. It’s been an issue. Skills attained in the classroom and skills developed on the job are a flashpoint. If you are a successful programmer/analyst or system administrator or IT manager, you realize there’s more to your success than strictly technical skills. Business skills, communication skills and teamwork skills all contribute to success.
Did you walk onto the job on Day One with box full of all those skills? Part of the problem as it’s being described today is that fewer job seekers have the full complement of skills.
“I firmly believe education is the next big bubble,” says Jim Buck, an IBM i advocate with experience that spans the education and real world experiences. “It’s like the housing crisis of a few years ago, but this time it’s an education crisis. Students are graduating with huge debt and inadequate skills.”
There are two resolutions to the education-to-employment crisis, Buck says. Companies should be actively engaged with colleges and they should take ownership of their employees’ education.
When education providers and employers collaborate one of the benefits is a curriculum that’s better suited to the job market. Another positive outcome is employers’ IT staff becoming instructors or guest speakers. A third benefit of collaboration comes with the establishment of work-study programs. In all three cases, it’s the real-world experience that provides value.
“Germany has the most successful educational system I’m aware of,” Buck says. “There, students work for a company for a couple of weeks, then go to school for a couple of weeks. This goes on for a period of time and accomplishes two very important things that don’t happen here in the U.S.: The student finds that what he’s learning in school is relevant. And the companies have direct input into what the colleges are teaching.”
Germany has a history of apprentice-based programs that ingrains that approach as part of the work culture. Although there was a time when it was more common in the U.S., it has faded in the most recent decades.
The best programs matching skills to jobs begin with students in middle schools and progress through high school and college. Employers commit to hiring before students are enrolled in a program to build their skills. So, companies are committed to training employees and the burden of educational costs are not entirely on the students.
Collaborations involving multiple employers and particular skills (IBM i, would be one example) increase the odds of getting the attention of schools that take note of the larger employment demands. More involvement brings the benefit of cost splitting, but it also ramps up the competition for the best and brightest students. Perhaps a pro sports draft system could be put into place.
On the topic of curriculum, Buck is a proponent of less emphasis on the latest and greatest programming languages and increased focus on business and accounting skills.
“Companies need people who understand business. It’s easier to teach an accountant programming than it is to teach a programmer accounting. We turning out programmers with technical skills, but who don’t know the difference between a purchase order and a death certificate,” he says. “Kids are leaving college with IT skills and little or no business skills, while companies want plug-in employees with multiple IT and business skills.”
Companies that invest in their employees are relatively rare. But those that do seem to be the same companies that are using the modern IT systems and technology to something near their full potential. Buck believes the easiest and most efficient manner for companies to solve their skills shortage is to hire people and educate them.
Companies that invest in training, to a large degree, believe the return on investment is a great value to both the company and the individual. And job-seekers are rightly advised to favor companies that invest in their employees. There are no statistics that indicate a greater percentage of companies that that offer limited or no training are the companies that have a greater percentage of unfilled jobs, but common sense suggests that it is a contributing factor.
Explaining the situation that plagues many IBM i shops, Buck says it’s important that companies understand young people will not work with old technologies. In some cases, lack of available skills means lack of skills in old technology.
“Companies need to modernize to attract young IT talent. The tools and software are available (RDi and modern RPG should be part of the plan) and it is less expensive to modernize than to change platforms or completely rewrite systems,” he says. “Keep the core business logic and modernize the database and user interface. Start slow, concentrate on one area, get it right and take your modernization knowledge to the next area.”
Buck has a presentation titled “Failure to Modernize: The Real Cost” that offers insights and advice on the issues of workforce skills for IBM i shops.
“I don’t believe there is an RPG skills shortage,” he says. “I can train a young person very quickly to be successful as an IBM i developer.”