Bridging the Generation Gap Through IT Training

Mary E. Shacklett, President, Transworld Data | 12/1/2010 | 15 comments

Mary E. Shacklett
Training is something that IT has rarely done well, yet it is becoming more urgent as Baby Boomers prepare for retirement and younger IT professionals who hardly speak the same language are entering the workforce.

Those just beginning their IT careers face some significant challenges:

  • Seventy percent of mission-critical business applications worldwide are still being run on proprietary systems that most universities (and younger IT professionals) don’t know or teach.

  • What universities do know and teach are largely UNIX- and Linux-based computing platforms that stress object-oriented software development and prototyping in languages like Java. Organizations want these skills, but they also want the disciplines of quality assurance, security, and other deployment measures that are not always emphasized in academic curricula.

  • University IT grads find themselves in a quandary when it comes to gaining entry into corporate IT environments, because everyone continues to ask for two years of experience, and it’s hard to gain that experience if no one will take a chance on hiring you.

  • For years, corporate IT has been focused on large project workloads, and it has had the luxury of relying on an older, established, and highly competent workforce that it has been able to augment with outsourced resources -- at the expense of training new hires.

On the other hand, there are new IT skills in demand -- skills that older IT pros often lack and that many young IT pros learned in school. Realizing the need for both sets of skills, forward-thinking IT organizations are moving to bridge the gap between old and young with new education strategies. For example...

Teaming with universities: More companies are warming to the idea of working hand-in-hand with universities to develop IT curricula that benefit the enterprise and to provide internships to the best and brightest students. Some internships give students an opportunity to earn college credit working on a non-mission-critical project in a corporate environment. For its part, corporate IT gets a glimpse at young prospects for employment and is in an excellent position to hire these students as they graduate.

Outside training certifications: Particularly in network and security areas, IT departments are increasing their investment in employees' education, training, and certification. Such programs benefit the development of both young and older IT professionals.

Self-paced training and goals: Larger IT departments have a dedicated training function that actually develops a "mini university" within the company. The internal university posts various IT jobs and also lists the requirements and the training steps for each position. Aspiring young employees can discuss these jobs with their supervisors, develop training plans, and (in many cases) take online training at their own pace and participate in live projects to build their skills for career advancement.

Mentoring and inserting new members on project teams: Traditionally one of the most difficult training tasks for IT to execute, senior staff experts and project managers are being asked to mentor young hires and to insert them into real-time corporate IT projects. The involvement of these younger employees is highly structured and supervised, as they are both learning and doing. It is the equivalent of an experienced pilot flying alongside a trainee. The mentor pilot is ready to take the helm when needed, and then to release it again when the trainee learns to fly unaccompanied. This is far and away the most effective IT training technique -- but it requires commitment from experienced staff and management to allow the time for this to happen.

Recognizing and removing cultural obstacles: Many IT organizations are struggling internally with cultural shifts between older and younger workers. This is a challenge for IT managers, but with the help of new tools from vendors that blend both old and new technology environments into a common "workbench," these groups are coming together.

There is no textbook training prescription that fits every IT organization, so most CIOs have to assess their organizations' strengths and weaknesses, and then hire and develop talent accordingly. The good news is that training is back as a line item in IT budgets, even in the leanest of times. This alone will pay dividends as IT moves forward in the 21st century.

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batye   Bridging the Generation Gap Through IT Training   12/2/2010 2:08:50 PM
Re: From Training to the Real World

it more like Paradigm

Co. want fresh hire to have 2 years knowledge of 6 months old technology.

same with college graduates 

Matthew McKenzie   Bridging the Generation Gap Through IT Training   12/2/2010 11:33:50 AM
Re: From Training to the Real World
Co-op programs are often five-year degrees, and with the length of time to a standard bachelor's stretching past five years at many schools, we begin looking at six, seven, or more years to graduate.

That's an interesting dilemma. While I'm sure there are lots of innovations happening in engineering (especially fields like EE or BME), I doubt things move as quickly as they do in CS today. Five years in software development is a lifetime, or perhaps two lifetimes.
Mary E. Shacklett   Bridging the Generation Gap Through IT Training   12/2/2010 11:33:04 AM
Re: 2 years experience!
The "two year barrier"  has been there  since  I can remember, and  what it is basically saying is that companies don't want to have to train new staffers "from the ground up." 


I have actually seen young people volunteer to work for nothing for a time-- in order to "prove themselves" in the hope that they will be hired. Others  have latched on to part-time apprenticeships which, while they don't pay much, at least get the 2-year rule out of the way.
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Mary E. Shacklett   Bridging the Generation Gap Through IT Training   12/2/2010 11:28:46 AM
Re: From Training to the Real World
One of the  areas is  system management skills. IBM has made a big  splash in this area by teaming in curriculum development with over 150 universities  worldwide to present mainframe-oriented  courses on operating sytems  and systems performance optimization and tuning.


A second area is application develoipment in heterogeneous computing  environments, which most enteprises have. This type of knowledge, which involves work with sytems integration is best accomplished when universities team with enterprises on projects that can't be  staged in the "laboratory" environments of universities.

A third area is project management. Few IT or MBA progam simulate the challenges and problem sets that must be addressed while managing complex IT projects.


And  a fourth area is, believe it or not, quality asssurance. This should  take into account not only clean and well written code, but human factors engineeering and ensuring that the developed work "fits" the  ease, comfort and requirements of an end user.  

I think  all of these areas can give  students a better sense of what the work world out there expects from them.
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Mary E. Shacklett   Bridging the Generation Gap Through IT Training   12/2/2010 11:18:45 AM
Re: Good for the company in many ways
Certification programs (Microsoft, Cisco, others) have tried to bridge the gap between just learning about something and being ready to take it on--and companies have recognized those.


The results  have  been somewhat more uneven for IT schools,  where  some  are recognized for good programs and some  are not.


I have  found, though, that no matter what types of technical education you undertake, organizations  still want people who have the  basic "3 R" skills--reading, writing and arithmetic--and add  to that, the ability to communicate.
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CurtisFranklin   Bridging the Generation Gap Through IT Training   12/2/2010 10:33:17 AM
Re: From Training to the Real World
...thats when the Project Assignment / Internship comes into place , usually towards the end of the course. That should be the real 'Get Ready' session to step into the enterprise world.

This is a great point. Engineering schools have long had the co-op education model, which requires engineering students to spend a total of two to four semesters working in the "real world" as part of a supervised educational process before they can graduate. There is a lot of good in these programs, but they require a base of companies willing to work within the limitations of the program in order to make things work.

An additional difficulty is the length of time required for the degree. Co-op programs are often five-year degrees, and with the length of time to a standard bachelor's stretching past five years at many schools, we begin looking at six, seven, or more years to graduate. Is there a good solution at hand for this? I'm not sure...

MS.Akkineni   Bridging the Generation Gap Through IT Training   12/2/2010 9:44:30 AM
Re: From Training to the Real World
...because I can remember having to work with Basic, FORTRAN, Pascal, PL/1. IBM BAL, Lisp...

@Curtis: felt so nostologic reading thru these lines of your post.

And i still believe it is very important and valuble to have subjects like Programming concepts, DBMS, SAD(Sfoftware Analysis & Design), software engineering , artificial intelligence be part of any IT academic curriculam. That brings a great foundation to the core level.

And to bring a student up to speed with the latest technologies and/or to adapt various business models, thats when the Project Assignment / Internship comes into place , usually towards the end of the course. That should be the real 'Get Ready' session to step into the enterprise world.

Andrew Froehlich   Bridging the Generation Gap Through IT Training   12/2/2010 12:01:55 AM
Re: 2 years experience!
The only way to really get past it on a personal level is to have decent connections.

This statement is absolutely true.  I figured it out a few years back and thought I stumbled onto some new and exciting secret.  Now I realize that having connections to get ahead has been going on since the beginning of business...I just never had them!
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Rowan   Bridging the Generation Gap Through IT Training   12/1/2010 11:28:34 PM
2 years experience!
I see that demand, or something equivalent, everywhere I've looked for jobs in the past couple of years. I think it's just a hoop that hiring teams are putting up to cut what they think the wheat from the chaff might be. It's foolish, but when every job posting gets 400 responses, I think HR departments think they can get away with it. The only way to really get past it on a personal level is to have decent connections.

On a societal level, the economy has to be fixed, so that corporations won't have all the power in the hiring process and thus are allowed to set the terms according to their most rigid institutional bounds. I can't wait for that to happen, but I know that I'll have to....
CurtisFranklin   Bridging the Generation Gap Through IT Training   12/1/2010 11:28:26 PM
From Training to the Real World
Mary, I can't disagree with anything in your post, but I'm left scratching my head about the reasons that some of these are still the case in 2010. I've done a fair amount of work around universities, for example, and I know of computer science programs in which you can get a degree while learning two whole programming languages: Java and C++. That's stunning to me, because I can remember having to work with Basic, FORTRAN, Pascal, PL/1. IBM BAL, Lisp, and more just to get through all the assignments. Even then, though, we were working on one of the same problems that you bring up.

The problem was that after we went through all the "book larnin'" of the program, we still weren't really prepared to go to work in the commercial world. Sure, I understood the basics of data base design through my work in raw VSAM, but it wasn't until I had programmed my first 25,000 (or so) lines of dBase II code that I was useful to clients.

It's not a problem unique to computer science, but what should we be teaching college students so they're closer to hitting the ground running when they come out of school? I've got some ideas, but I'm afraid some of my concepts may be somewhat antiquated; what's the current list of things that Really Ought to Be Taught?
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