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Degrees of Change

Degrees of Change

CIOs say they need employees with business skills to build IT departments that can compete with outsourcers. Yet schools aren't providing this talent. Now, with enrolment in IT programs falling, universities are beginning to listen.

Reader ROI

  • How universities are trying to respond to IT's needs
  • What CIOs can do to move the process along

As CIO of Hanson (formerly Pioneer Construction Materials), a major supplier of construction materials to the Australian market, Rob Downing finds turnover at his IT shop is so low he gets relatively little experience in recruiting staff direct from university. However, on those occasions he has done so, Downing has ended up hiring graduates who show every sign of being desperate to impress and who seemingly want to climb the promotional tree almost before they get the job offer, despite a distinct, if understandable, lack of real-world business or IT experience.

Still, at least these days Downing finds universities are running courses that are far more relevant than those of the past. For instance, the company runs SAP and recently was able to take someone on board who had completed an SAP BW course within his degree. After as little as five to seven years' experience within IT, during which they have gained great knowledge of business processes and how things hang together from a big picture perspective, he says some graduates are now finally kicking goals within the business.

Elsewhere, as head of a relatively small operation of around 40 people, Martin Cassidy, director of IT with NSW Lotteries, says he tends to hire experienced IT staff whenever possible rather than recent graduates. Until recently, he just has not been able to even consider sacrificing the time needed to train green staff. "For example, to look at my database administrators, I've got three of those and to bring in inexperienced ones tends to leave a gap so I tend to employ only experienced people there."

On the other hand Cassidy would dearly like to bring some younger blood and fresher ideas into an organization that has carried many long-term employees over from the public sector. To this end he has decided it might be worthwhile bringing in a new graduate imbued with the latest thinking the next time there's an opening - but only if a careful look at their training suggests the change in tactics might pay off. The trick, he says, will be finding ways to accommodate the move without impacting on the running of the business.

"The next time a vacancy happens to come up, I will look at that and ask whether I can survive with an inexperienced person here - how it would work. We're actually looking at changing the recruiting behaviour just to try this idea out," he says. The idea would be to approach one or two universities and offer to bring in one or two graduates during their final year, so he can evaluate their training and abilities.

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