Just sharing with all of u about this news abstract from The Star Online dated today wrote Jo Timbuong about "Solving the IT worker shortage"
THE shortage of skilled workers to fill positions in the country's IT industry is a longstanding problem. Everyone agrees that a solution has to be found, but it still evades us.
Open-source enterprise-software maker Red Hat said there are 2,000 to 2,500 vacancies for IT personnel each month.
In comparison, only 830 IT students graduate from our universities monthly, said Prof Dr Md Gapar Md Johar, vice-president of Academia and Dean of the Information Science and Engineering Faculty at the Management Science University.
"There definitely is a shortage and the country needs to rely on foreign knowledge workers to plug the gap," said Daniel Ng, marketing director for Asia Pacific at Red Hat.
While many blame the tertiary institutions for not being able to meet the industry needs because of an outdated computer science syllabus, Gapar believes the problem stems from the secondary-school level.
"How many science stream students are there in secondary schools who are also good in math? The good ones are usually channelled to other hard science courses, like Medicine and Engineering but not IT," he said.
This, he said, is the reason why there aren't many qualified candidates for IT courses in the country.
Gapar believes that the first thing to do to correct this is to change the way math is perceived in our schools.
Mathematics, he explained, is seen as the basics for computer programming but many students aren't interested in the subject because they see it as being boring and difficult.
"We need to change the way math is being taught in schools to make it fun. It shouldn't be just about formulae, but also (the application of) logical thinking. Students need to see math in a new light," Gapar said.
Another factor that contributes to the lack of talent in the IT industry is that the industry is perceived to be uncool.
Red Hat's Ng believes parents today do not have the same perception of IT, compared to the days when he was in university. "Back then my parents were proud to say that their son is taking a course in IT, and that he would subsequently work for an IT company," he said.
He said parents today have a negative view of the industry, think it is an unprofitable field and that their children will be in dead-end or boring jobs.
"Many think that when you study computer science, you will end up in some desk-bound job, like IT administrator," Ng said.
Gapar thinks that parents' generally have a bad perception of IT these days, because of the dotcom crash in early 2000.
When that happened, some IT companies experienced a plunge in revenue while many startups that had hopped onto the dotcom bandwagon without a proper business plan died.
"That has left a black mark on the industry, and so the parents are discouraging their children from pursuing careers in IT," said Gapar.
The lack of qualified IT personnel is also attributed to the mislabelling of IT courses.
Dr Yap Chee Sing, managing director of professional training company Iverson Associates, said many are being marketed as IT courses but do not cover essential IT subjects, like programming.
"It is these non-IT courses that are branded as IT that are giving the actual IT courses a bad name," he said.
Yap said the students of such courses are the ones who have difficulties looking for a job in IT after graduation because they are not equipped with the necessary skills.
Gapar believes programming is an essential skill because this is where innovation begins. "It gives you the fundamentals to make more tools and from that you can create a lot of useful software and other innovations," he said.
Employers have become more discriminating and have even identified which universities produce the graduates with the right IT skills.
"If these students have hardcore IT skills, they are scooped up the second they graduate. Those with vague qualifications will have a harder time because they lack the necessary skills despite holding a degree in IT," Yap said.
According to him, the mislabelling of IT courses goes back to the dotcom era. "At that time, the argument was that market forces pushed for such courses to be labelled IT. Some universities were apparently forced to do that to promote their courses," he said.
If Malaysia wants more IT graduates with marketable skills, Gapar said, the first thing that needs to be done is to gear IT courses towards creating innovation, and to further emphasise the need for programming skills across all IT subjects.
Having these programming courses will not only spur innovation, but will also turn Malaysians from a society of users to that of creators, he said.
Gapar said tertiary institutions also need to start encouraging multiplatform training.
Ng explained that many employers prefer to hire graduates who have multiple skills. "Companies are adopting multiplatform environments these days and their preferences for multiplatform skills make sense.
" Why would companies hire two people to take care of different systems when they can hire one who can handle both?," he said.
The many career opportunities in the IT industry also needs to be more clearly communicated. Universities need to explain to students and parents that the career spectrum is wide.
According to Ng, there are other, softer branches in IT that have not been made clear, such as marketing for example. "I think that with a good understanding of technology and a little bit of flair, an IT graduate can be a great marketer of IT products," he said.
While it is wise to change parents' perception of IT courses, universities need to also look at keeping their IT courses abreast of the times.
These institutes of higher learning must engage the help of the industry to find out what other values their graduates must have in order to be more marketable.
The universities must work with the industry players to recognize the latest technology trends. "Once we get the feedback, we can make changes to our IT syllabus, and these will come into effect the next semester," Gapar said.
He said that in its recent meeting, some industry players advised that universities should also put more effort into honing their students' communications skills.
"Some students are very innovative but aren't able to communicate their ideas properly," he said. The solution would be to make such students present their work in class, where their communication skills can be sharpened.
The fast-paced nature of technology is also a problem to tertiary institutions. Most of the time, the subjects they teach may have lost relevance by the time their students graduate.
Gapar, Ng and Yap countered that while technologies change, the fundamentals remain the same.
"The changes are only in the design but if you have a strong understanding of the basic fundamentals, you can deal with all kinds of changes," Gapar said, emphasising his point as to why even a basic understanding of programming is so important.
Also, Ng said, graduates cannot rest on their laurels and need to constantly upscale their skills after graduation to keep up with technology advances and to maintain their marketability.