Rebooting the IT workforce for the next 10 years

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Guest post by Dr. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti

Over the past 30 years, information technology has transformed entire industries and radically altered how companies in every sector do business. More recent advancements in web and mobile technologies have accelerated the development of an Internet-based economy, and have propelled IT skills from being important to essential for businesses seeking competitive advantages.

Companies place a significant premium on workers with computer science and management information sciences backgrounds. Analysts predict a shortage of high-tech workers due to rising demand from technology and social networking companies. Even the current unemployment rate for technology workers reflects this demand; at around 4 percent, it is about half the total jobless rate.

In an increasingly data-driven, computational world, how can employees keep their skills relevant, and how can hiring managers cultivate and retain the qualified workforce they will need to remain competitive well into the 21st century?

Working learners provide deep talent pool

To help expand the pool of qualified IT candidates, companies must constantly reinvest in intellectual capital to develop workers with the right combination of skills. Research has shown that nontraditional students may be one of the best sources to target.

That is because 60 percent of CS/MIS majors are working learners who are typically financially self-supporting, age 23 or older, and looking to balance studies with careers and family obligations. According to findings published in the Apollo Research Institute report, "Traditional and Nontraditional Students: Is a Bachelor's Degree Worth the Investment?" these students saw returns that far outpaced those of traditional students.

Working learners who delay attending college until after age 23 earn on average a return on educational investment (ROEI) of 22 percent, versus 12 percent for traditional students, according to the report. For CS/MIS bachelor's degrees specifically, traditional graduates can expect to realize a 16-24 percent ROEI. For nontraditional graduates, the projected ROEI increases to 26-49 percent.

Yet even with a projected return that is higher than traditional students', working learners in IT fields are more likely to question whether investing in a college degree is worth the cost and time commitment, given the multiple responsibilities they juggle. While a new iPad or other short-term employment incentive might appeal to younger students or more inexperienced workers, nontraditional students need more objective information when weighing the value of pursuing their degree.

Reaping the returns of specific IT degrees

To attract top talent, hiring managers should consider eliminating gimmicky and (most likely) ineffective recruitment tactics such as offering new gadgets as sign-on incentives. Instead, they should empower workers to make data-driven decisions by providing information about the specific ROEI of IT-related degrees and their earning potential.

In the Apollo Research Institute series "Return on Educational Investment for Specific Academic Degrees," researchers analyzed 2010 salary data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers and educational cost information from the College Board to determine the ROEI for four CS/MIS bachelor's degrees: computer science, programming, systems analysis and information science/systems.

According to the study, for all IT-related bachelor's degrees, computer science graduates had the highest average starting salary ($60,473), followed by graduates with degrees in programming ($57,667), information sciences/systems ($52,530) and systems analysis ($44,000).

The study also determined that working learners saw a greater ROEI across all four degree areas, in some instances more than double that of traditional students:

Systems analysis

  • ROEI for traditional students: 16 percent
  • ROEI for nontraditional students: 26 percent

Information sciences and systems

  • ROEI for traditional students: 20 percent
  • ROEI for nontraditional students: 42 percent

Programming

  • ROEI for traditional students: 23 percent
  • ROEI for nontraditional students: 47 percent

Computer science

  • ROEI for traditional students: 24 percent
  • ROEI for nontraditional students: 49 percent

Employer training programs encourage certifications

Companies that provide workers with opportunities for formal education and continuous skill development can help maintain or achieve a competitive advantage. The most successful businesses--those that will truly deliver what the global marketplace demands--complement these opportunities with their own innovative programs to help workers stay on the technological cutting edge.

For example, each year Cisco's Networking Academy teaches hundreds of thousands of students the skills they need to build, design and maintain networks. As part of the Networking Academy, educators in 165 countries help prepare individuals for industry-recognized certifications and information and communication technology careers in all industries. Networking Academy uses a public-private partnership model in which it partners with educational institutions, nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations, governments, and community centers. These entities provide classroom space, computer labs and qualified instructors, while Cisco provides online curricula, teacher training and professional development for instructors.

Oracle's training affiliate, Oracle University, delivers 700 classes per week in a variety of formats, training over 610,000 students per year. Globally, Oracle University has also certified 1.3 million professionals in Oracle DBA, Java, MYSQL, Oracle Solaris and other technologies, with certifications assessed through a worldwide network of over 5,000 certification testing sites. Through four different learning formats, which include classroom, custom, virtual and self-study training, Oracle University prepares students for Oracle Certification exams.

There are also more than three million Microsoft Certified Professionals who are credentialed in various specialties. Sixteen certifications are offered to IT professionals, developers, trainers, and home and office users. Many of these students can get college credit for earning select certifications.

By connecting education to career growth, these companies help prepare the IT workforce of the future to stay relevant and employable, and also position their businesses to overcome and even capitalize on the disruptive shifts that a changing workplace will bring.

Dr. Tracey Wilen-Daugenti is vice president and managing director at Apollo Research Institute. She is also a visiting scholar at the Stanford University Media X Program and author of "Society 3.0: How Technology is Reshaping Education, Work and Society."