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7 key skills new IT grads are lacking

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

Wanted: Real-world perspective

IT exec Dale Denham says, in his experience, new college graduates tend to think in a tunnel, concentrating on the best technology without considering what's best for the company's fiscal constraints or employee population.

"I have a lot of people who, for example, know how to design the best-looking database on paper [or] the best utilization for storage, but they're not looking at the fact that user experience will be impacted," says Denham, CIO of Geiger, a Lewiston, Maine-based company that distributes promotional products.

"They don't know how to balance IT with what the business needs. Or they might not realize the cost of doing something, the time it takes, the skills required," he adds. Most hires pick those skills up on the job, but "the schools could set the foundation for it."

Denham says he tries to bring new hires down to earth by walking them through the reasons why their designs won't get the green light, even though the technology might be sound. "If they're open-minded, then mentoring will work," he says.

Wanted: The ability to work as a team

It might come as a surprise, but the generation steeped in Facebook, Twitter and other online communities turns out to not be particularly skilled at building the same collaborative spirit in the workplace, IT leaders are reporting.

"As much as we'd like to think that this generation is all about social media, working together continues to be a significant challenge," Thibodeaux says, noting that this weakness is particularly prevalent among computer science majors who spent a lot of their college time working on projects alone.

"A lot of them don't know how to work together effectively or set and manage expectations. That's not being taught very well in colleges or graduate schools."

James T. Brown, president of consulting and training firm SEBA Solutions in Viera, Fla., says some colleges are trying to address the gap by assigning more coursework to teams, rather than individual students, but the students in the teams often just break down the assignments into individual parts that they each do on their own.

Brown says only a handful of companies have robust leadership and team-building training programs for their workers, including tech employees, but those companies that do offer such programs recognize that they get the full value of any employee when he or she works well with others.

And a few traits IT managers love...

While it's true that IT managers are dismayed that new tech grads lack certain specific skills, overall they agree that this new generation is tech-savvy, hard-working and willing to learn.

CompTIA's Thibodeaux says he hears from colleagues that the latest graduates are energetic, creative and eager to contribute.


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