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State of IT Skills — From Myth to Reality

We are all acutely aware that the US is graduating fewer students with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). For example, in 2009, the U.S. graduated 37,994 students with bachelor’s degrees in computer and information science — fewer than 25 years ago.

What does that mean for the public sector? With set budgets and fewer incentives at its disposal, it has to work even harder to attract highly coveted IT staff. But many prospective employers in the public sector may be letting a few of the most common myths about IT skills keep them from striking employee gold.

Myth: IT skills are non-transferable
Although IT departments are often siloed by platform and technology, the skills employees gain working in a particular area can be applied more broadly. For example, while the benefits the IBM mainframe provides are unique, the skills required to support and program for it are less so. Once a programmer has the basic foundation of the systems and the principles of programming down, they can apply them to different languages like Java, C/C++ and COBOL. In short — programming is programming, no matter what platform you are using.

It wasn’t that long ago that music and psychology majors were considered good candidates for programming roles. Why? Because pattern recognition is a fundamental skill for programming and it is one that people in these disciplines are trained for as well.

Myth: Experience is job one
As any job seeker knows, just about every open job description includes parameters for required years of experience. Many employers are reluctant to hire graduates right out of college. But the truth is, recent IT graduates bring fresh energy and newly minted skills in hot areas like social business, mobile computing and cloud that can benefit their entire department. And given the rate of technology change, IT staff is always learning and evolving. Recent graduates can learn as fast as any other worker.

Myth: Academia is an Ivory Tower
Through its Academic Initiative, IBM has observed that universities are eager to team with prospective employers to ensure a healthy job market for their graduates. We regularly attend meetings hosted by University partners with enterprise clients. For example, Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, PA recently hosted a meeting to get input on its new Enterprise Systems Degree Programs from prospective employers PNC, BNY-Mellon, Highmark, UPMC, Bayer, K&L Gates and Blue Cross Blue Shield – South Carolina. So if you have a skills requirement, let your local university or community college know about it.

Like any organization, those in the public sector need talented employees to be successful. By changing their thinking, employers can get the skills they need to meet their goals.

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