IBM’s answer to IT skills crunch: Woo students

Reaches out to colleges with Web tools for honing IT skills

IBM is reaching out to college students with new bundles of Web-based information, tools and software to help them hone the skills they’ll need for fast-growing IT job opportunities.

As part of an expanded outreach to college IT students, IBM is releasing a set of Web-based tools and resources to help them hone marketable skills in the fastest-growing IT job opportunities.

IBM is adding a section to the Web site of its long-standing Academic Initiative program, which until now has focused mainly on working with faculties who teach IT and IT-related courses. The new section is designed for students, with tutorials, games, skills assessments and online forums that can supplement, and be incorporated with, regular college and university courses.

“Our key concern is the ‘skills pipeline,’” says Kevin Faughnan, an IBM veteran who’s been director of the company’s Academic Initiative since 2004. The mega-trends of globalization and services-oriented economies are made possible by information technology, creating a growing U.S. and global demand for IT skills, he says. "The information system -- the hardware and software and networking ‘complex’ -- is what’s driving the services-oriented businesses,” he says. “They need young workers who have the skills to continue innovating."

And these companies can no longer afford the lengthy and costly internal training programs that have been standard features of the business landscape, according to Faughnan. Young workers need to be productive sooner, with skills that are ready to be used. (Read “Wanted: 10 IT skills employers need today.)

College and university faculty understand this, Faughnan says. And the expanded Web resources are part of IBM’s commitment to facilitate this skills development in colleges and universities, in conjunction with the company’s existing collaboration with faculties.

Chart of five fastest growing technology skills

But the nature of these skills and the role they play in the developing global economy mean that IT skills are no longer limited to IT professionals, but become an important, even essential, part of other business disciplines such as marketing, accounting, security and business process re-engineering. So IBM’s outreach extends beyond computer science departments to include areas such as business.

Brandeis International Business School, part of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., is using IBM’s 3-D video game, Innov8, unveiled last November, as a complementary tool for teaching business process management. In the game, a student becomes an outside consultant working with a company to re-engineer a business process in its call center, says Preeta Banerjee, assistant professor of strategy at the school.

It takes one to two hours to go through the scenario, and students write up and then talk over their impressions and reactions. As members of the Academic Initiative program, Banerjee and other faculty have taken students to IBM’s Lexington campus to meet with employees whose job is re-designing business processes. IBM says about 100 institutions of all types and sizes are now using Innov8.

IBM has keyed many of the new student resources to emerging skills that are in high demand. Many of these are in Web services and Web application development, database, and open source programming.

The new Web resources fall into seven broad areas, accessible via an extension to the IBM Web site – www.ibm.us.com/university/students:

* Service Science Management and Engineering (SSME), an emerging discipline that combines works in science, engineering and business management, intended to equip students to work in a new class of jobs, such as environmental engineering, that need a multidisciplinary expertise.

* Database technology, a package of information tools, dubbed DB2 Express-C, including free software downloads, access to a tech support forum, and publications and materials for preparing for certification exams.

* For Web 2.0 development, the new site offers WebSphere sMash, which includes scripting runtimes such as Groovy and PHP, software, and access to an online development community at ProjectZero.org.

* Web server technology, a battery of education and development resources around IBM’s downloadable lightweight Java application server, WebSphere Application Server Community Edition, based on the open source code delivered in Apache Geronimo.

* “Team-based development” with IBM’s just-unveiled Team Concert, a portal that keeps development teams in sync, based on IBM’s Jazz collaboration platform for distributed software development. Team Concert is a free download, and students can join the Jazz.net online community.

* Enterprise systems, a group of tools around emerging large-systems computing models and issues, such as the new data center, virtualization, “green IT,” and cloud computing. One element is mainframe “games” hosted on the 3-D virtual site, Second Life.

* Skills certification and job opportunity database: faculty members who are members of the Academic Initiative can request 50% discounts for their students on almost 50 IBM software and hardware certification tests. Students who pass these tests can post their résumés on the Student Opportunity Systems, a database accessed by IBM customers and business partners around the world.

IBM’s Faughnan likes to quote former University of North Carolina Professor Daniel Reed, now with Microsoft Research, that IT is “the Liberal Arts of the 21st century.” “A lot of people consider [all] this as vocational training,” Faughnan says. “The truth is that this kind of education is pervasively relevant.”

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