Is 'industry-ready' a University responsibility?

By on
Is 'industry-ready' a University responsibility?

To combat a persistent skills shortage in the Australian IT industry, educational institutions have focussed their efforts on attracting students to science and engineering studies in recent years.

However, despite the best efforts of Australian universities, the industry remains unimpressed. University graduates have not been suitably prepared to fulfil commercial demand, industry players say.

“One of the things we see with people coming out of universities is that they are generally a fair way behind where the industry is,” said Nick Rodda, Managing Director of hosted contact centre solutions provider, Global Speech Networks.

Estimating two to three years in training expenses to do with hiring fresh graduates, Rodda blamed the Australian tertiary education system for not keeping up with industry demands.

“We hire graduates from time to time with the intention of investing in them to make them productive in two years time,” he said.

According to specialist IT recruitment agency, Kelly Services, employers greatly value candidates with a proven experience in the technologies that are already used by the company.

Naming .NET as the most commonly used programming language being used at present, Kelly Services’s Resources Branch Manager, Jason Fuller, noted an industry appreciation for candidates who have previously worked on time sensitive commercial projects and an experience in high-pressure, commercial environments.

“Employers will almost always choose to have someone join their company with a proven experience using the same technologies that they already use, or may be in the process of migrating towards in the near future,” Fuller said.

But training students to meet exact industry demands may be impossible, University of New South Wales lecturer John Shepherd said.

“For us to actually pick the exact technologies that are going to suit [the industry] and training up our students hoping those technologies are going to suit every company - we’ve got no chance,” he said.

“We could go for the dominant market players and teach all our students those technologies, but that’s not really the point. The point is learning how to learn,” he said.

As a lecturer of database programming at the university’s School of Computer Science and Engineering, Shepherd specialises in the PHP programming platform on top of the PostgreSQL database in his teachings.

While he admitted that the industry tends to favour Oracle over PostgreSQL in commercial databases, Shepherd said that Open Source platforms such as PostgreSQL and PHP are better suited to his teachings due to cost advantages and the ease of access to the technical mechanisms behind the platform.

Rather than teaching any one particular system, Shepherd said the University is more concerned with teaching the ideas behind the systems, which he expects will better equip students to adapt to new versions of existing technologies.

While the university’s teaching decisions may not have completely satisfied the demands of its students, Shepherd pointed out that several training institutions already offer courses targeted to industry-specific platforms and languages.

“We’re not teaching a particular system; we’re teaching the ideas behind the system,” he said, “and that’s what university is about.”

“The students say why don’t you teach us .NET, why don’t you teach us Oracle, and we have to keep justifying that you’re not learning .NET or Oracle, you’re learning Object-Oriented distributed programming, or you’re learning SQL.”

“We’re not a training institute; there are plenty of those going around. If they [students] want to learn version 3.0 of Oracle, they can go to an Oracle training course, or go to a TAFE,” he said.

While he agreed that tertiary institutions tend not to exactly satisfy the demands of the industry, Dimension Data’s General Manager for Application Integration, Peter Menadue, said that the educational tendency towards more academically-targeted platforms has been an ongoing theme for decades.

“It’s true to say that in tertiary institutions, more of the languages that are taught are of a great educational basis and less of a commercial basis,” Menadue said.

“There’s probably a little more of a preference around a spread of things [platforms], including open source, in tertiary institutions, [but] we just haven’t seen a bulk of commercial development that’s happening in Open Source for our enterprise customers.”

Mentioning .NET and Java as programming platforms that are more popular in the enterprise, Menadue encouraged tertiary institutions to make sure that students are equipped with relevant skills.

Meanwhile, UNSW’s Shepherd argued that universities should be more focussed on the long-term employability of students rather than the immediate demands of the industry.

“Is it our job to produce industry-ready graduates, or should we produce people who will be better long-term employees,” he asked.

“The company that takes them [graduates] will have to train them on a particular platform, but then this person should be easy to train because they’ve got the foundations down, and they should be more adaptable in the future,” he said.

Both industry experience and tertiary qualifications are attractive qualities in job candidates, Kelly Services’ Fuller said, noting a rise of work experience requirements in University courses to meet industry demand.

“Depending on what particular industry the client is within, a university degree may be a pre requisite of the role,” he said. “Others will simply need the candidate to be able to display a combination of the commercial and technical experience required to successfully work the role on a daily basis.”

“As employers demand more of their employees than they did 10 years ago, the educational institutions have responded by dramatically improving the level of preparation they put in place for making the graduates ‘career ready’ for when they gain their first commercial role.”

“More and more education facilities are incorporating a level of on site work experience as an integral part of their curriculum,” Fuller said.

Most Read Articles

Log In

|  Forgot your password?