The IT skills shortage is a recurring topic in any conversation about the IT workforce and one of the often quoted causes for the lack of skills is the employability of graduates / entry level professionals in IT.

This has led to 2 developments:

  • A push to make higher education more vocational – equipping graduates with more practical skills which employers can immediately utilise.
  • The other is the development of IT apprenticeships (or equivalent) – programmes to developing IT skills in the workplace supported by structured training / qualifications

This video and article (link below) by Wharton professor Peter Capelli summarises his research into the issues and where he sees the underlying cause.

Its not aimed specifically at the IT workforce and it is USA based; nevertheless it is entirely relevant for IT and the role of higher education and IT apprenticeships in employability of entry level IT professionals and how employers can develop their “supply chain” of IT skills.

Capelli concludes that …

ultimately the issue here is that higher education, post-secondary education, is just not well-suited to deliver job training: … getting your first job is probably not ultimately what your college education is supposed to be about.

He highlights the evidence …

  • The context is that there is an enormous amount of complaining going on … by the employer community about difficulty in hiring people, finding people with the right skills. And much of that complaining seems to be directed at education.
  • When you look carefully, it appears that there really isn’t any merit to it, that the big change seems to be that employers are not training people — that entry-level jobs have largely gone away. What employers are really after is hiring people who can do the job as soon as they walk in the door, and the proof for that has to be that you are currently doing the same job someplace else for a competitor. That’s who everybody wants to hire.

I agree with this – somehow it always seems easier for employers to resort to “buying” skills rather than building their own. What seems to be missing from this thinking is that someone, somewhere has to invest in building the skills. I guess “short termism” wins the day.

However Capelli has issues with the push to make higher education too vocational …

  • Nevertheless, the pressure has come around to students and to colleges to try to get more vocational, so I’m trying to look at what that means and whether it’s actually a good idea. And the conclusion pretty clearly is no, it’s not a good idea.
  • You can see obviously that it’s taken to extremes in some places … there are courses … on turf management … adventure tourism … casino management, and every little weird niche in the market.
  • And ultimately the issue here is that higher education, post-secondary education, is just not well-suited to deliver job training: Getting your first job is probably not ultimately what your college education is supposed to be about
  • “A lot of very vocational experience in college, learning a lot of very practical things, in the long run I think is very much a waste of time.”

As things stand –  kids (and their parents) are taking an enormous financial risk by trying to second guess the employment market

The thing that I found most surprising and disappointing, is how messed up the system is and the extent to which kids are borrowing enormous amounts of money and going into debt chasing what they think are job opportunities that may or may not be there years in the future. I think the focus on very practical majors is ending up really turning around to bite people.

He describes the “emerging model” where employability can be developed away from higher education

  • Maybe the most interesting thing that I seem to be finding is that there’s kind of an emerging model where your employability after you graduate is driven by things that don’t have to do with your college education per se.
  • They have to do certainly with the internships you’ve gotten …  there are places that will turn you into an IT person in six months, for example. And it’s not classroom training so much, it’s real work experience. You learn by doing, as an apprentice model might teach you. And at the end of that experience what you get are references, basically, that say “This person did the website for me. This student solved this IT problem for us. They managed this project.” Whatever it is.
  • So it might very well be that you’re better off thinking about your employability being driven by experiences that are extracurricular as opposed to curricular.…

And ends with a swipe at employers …

  • I think the lessons for employers is that if you think about this as a supply chain you would never manage any other supply chain like this, where you just complained loudly that you weren’t finding what you wanted from your suppliers and you’re just hoping they’re going to produce it at a price you want to pay, they’re just going to deliver it to your door.
  • But that is the way most employers seem to be thinking about the labor market — that somehow the right people will just show up when they want them with the right skills.

Read More … Why Recent Grads Aren’t Prepared for Work