Wednesday, April 17, 2024

IT Education and You

In the proverbial new economy, an old situation exists — there are jobs to be had, but they require the right education. A study recently released by the Information Technology Association of America found that companies, both information technology-based and traditional bricks-and-mortar, hope to hire 900,000 workers this year. Of that, 425,000 positions will go unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants.

To serve this need, a competitive marketplace for IT education has developed, from traditional colleges, community colleges, technical training centers and certification programs. The technical training industry alone offers more than 350 certifications, creating an industry valued at more than $7 billion, according to Stamford, Conn.-based Simba Information.

But there lies the rub for people seeking job security in the IT industry — it is taking more than certification to get ahead. Despite the avenues for technical education, the ITAA study revealed that finding a return on investment with a certificate may be harder for job seekers today than it has been in past years, when holding a certificate and no degree still commanded relatively high salaries and easy access to jobs. While polling 685 companies representing both the IT field and the non-IT field, hiring managers said a four-year college degree now is the best pre-hire means of getting needed skills and knowledge in four of eight categories: database development and administration, enterprise systems, programming/software engineering and technical writing.

Simply, it is taking more than just technical training to get an IT job. More employers are saying that they need to find employees who can contribute to the whole business process and communicate the benefits of implementing technology. Certifications alone are not providing that type of training, leaving degrees as the best tool companies are using to evaluate how a prospective employee can contribute to the success of the business.

“Executives told us when we started to develop our school of technology programs that they need IT professionals who have problem-solving skills related to business, not just technology,” said Dr. Kurt Linberg, dean of the Capella University School of Technology. “We designed courses that make IT professionals marketable to companies, not just the IT department at those companies.”

Capella University (www.capellauniversity.edu), the fastest growing accredited fully online university, offers bachelor of science degrees in information technology, with concentrations in five different areas, ranging from Network Technology to Web Application Development and E-Business. The School of Technology also provides a master of science degree program in information technology, along with certificates and continuing education programs, while Capella’s School of Business offers a master of business administration with a concentration in information technology management.

As the job market softens, having a degree becomes more important for IT professionals. According to the ITAA, the positions that companies need to fill are down nearly 40 percent from last year, from 1.6 million to the projected 900,000. With fewer jobs available, prospective employees have to show how they can apply their skills to the growth and stability of the company. Degrees provide that distinction, often separating an engineer from a technician.

“In response to a variety of factors, companies appear ready to rein in their hiring plans and proceed cautiously,” authors of the study wrote. “This trend suggests that job candidates should likewise sharpen their professional focus in building skills and seeking work.”

Ranging from teamwork to communication skills, companies now want to see how IT job candidates can contribute to the overall company. “Our engineers have to have skills that go beyond their technical expertise,” said Chris Doyle, director of product development with TIE, a global e-commerce software company with North American offices in Boston and St. Paul, Minn. “Social skills to interact with the client when they visit businesses, an understanding of the business process and the way our products can meet the needs of a company — these are things that certifications don’t address. Colleges and experience do.”

But it will still take more than theory to get a job and advance within a company. The technical skills earned through certifications are still important, and, for that reason, many universities are now putting a

premium on education that combines theoretical concepts with practical applications. For example, Linberg said Capella University challenges its students to bring in real-world problems, so that they can immediately apply what they learn to their careers, or have an end product to show to prospective employers.

“This is hands-on education, with every student participating,” Linberg said. “Companies have told us they want more from graduates than grade-point averages. They are looking for applicable knowledge, so the company can see the fruits of the education.”

However, working professionals needing to retool their skills don’t always find college classes a feasible option. Steve Shank, president and founder of Capella University, said that family and working commitments put a premium on personal time. That is why online education is a good option for people, allowing them to get the education they need on their time, thereby bridging the gap between companies needing to fill IT positions and people needing the right training for those jobs.

“More and more, people defined as nontraditional students — those who have families or have been in the workforce for years — are going back to school to either retrain themselves for a different career or expand their abilities,” Shank said. “As a higher education institution, Capella University is meeting their needs, bringing quality accredited programs that are accessible and suitable to life’s demands.”

Just as important, Shank said Capella offers its students a realistic way to learn and advance their careers. “We provide working adults an alternative to traditional universities. Students can log in anytime of the day and interact with professionals in their field from all over the world,” he said.

Many working adults who may have been lured out of college originally by high salaries for certified engineers are finding that flexibility advantageous when choosing whether they should return to school to get their degree.

“Quitting work to return to school just wasn’t realistic for me,” said Jackie Sullivan, a single mother who is earning a bachelor’s degree in information technology from Capella University. “Finding the right institution with programs that fit my career goals and personal demands has made going back to school an easier choice.”

For people who wonder if online education is right for them, www.geteducated.com has a list of references and online universities. Further information about distance or online education programs is available through guides devoted to distance learning, such as Peterson’s Guide to Distance Learning Programs and Bears’ Guide to Earning Degrees Nontraditionally, both available via Amazon.com.

Before enrolling at any university, students should verify that a third-party accrediting body recognizes the program and that the accreditation is nationally recognized. In the United States the most widely recognized form of accreditation for degree-granting programs comes from the regional accreditation commissions.

Courtesy of ARA Content, http://www.ARAcontent.com, e-mail: info@ARAcontent.com.

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