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7 key skills new IT grads are lacking

Mary K. Pratt | Oct. 13, 2011
Greg Taffet is scouting for talent.

Still, Ballengee says his company's new hires will start with a week of "developer school" to familiarize them with emerging areas that they may not have covered in college, such as cloud computing and BI, as well as in-demand enterprise programming languages like SQL, .Net and Java.

Wanted: The tech basics

As IT becomes increasingly advanced, Jeff Bowden has seen a decline in the ability of college graduates to handle simple tech tasks. "One gap we're finding is that colleges don't teach the real basic basics," says Bowden, director of IT Systems at Dassault Systèmes, a software vendor in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Bowden needs his new hires to have low-level tech skills -- to know their way around a command prompt, understand batch scripting or know how to fix a PC when it's not responding to input from the mouse.

"When you started 20 years ago, you were forced to learn this, but as computers evolved, people ignored this basic stuff. Yet there can be a strong need for it when you're troubleshooting computers" -- a task that's often part of an entry-level IT job, Bowden notes.

Bowden says he often leaves his new hires to figure out what to do on their own when faced with basic tech problems. "Our preference is getting them to learn how to do it, Googling it, and so on. Then it's something they own," he says. "Once you have your hands-on [experience] a few times, then you know the technology," he said, adding that he'll get a more senior staff member to teach a new hire if time is short.

Wanted: Familiarity with legacy systems

Modis's Sylvester says businesses are looking for people who can work on legacy systems. They want tech workers who know Cobol, Customer Information Control System (CICS) and other mainframe skills. But colleges aren't teaching them anymore, Sylvester says.

"There's a real concern that some of the mainframe skills that companies will be losing as the boomers retire aren't being taught in the universities at all," adds Jerry Luftman, executive director and distinguished professor at the School of Technology Management at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. Luftman says some companies ask their legacy vendors to train new hires directly on the existing systems.

Luftman and Sylvester both say that companies are seeking out college grads willing to learn legacy systems, although it's not an easy task to find them. They say that companies are trying to entice new workers to learn mainframe skills by making the case that a recent college graduate who's up on both the latest technologies and legacy systems will be doubly marketable.

"The skills to support legacy systems are marketable to many large organizations -- corporations, government, service providers," Luftman says, although recent grads "might not always see the bigger picture or long-term opportunity at such a young age."


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