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The complete ICT graduate

STRONG global demand for suitably qualified information and communication technologies graduates has resulted in local universities, TAFE colleges and a wide range of private commercial enterprises producing a significant number of graduates.

These alternative means of ICT career preparation are a matter of importance to industry employers concerned with the successful integration of graduates into the workplace. Of particular importance is the balance struck between a candidate’s technical skills and their broader interpersonal and knowledge acquisition abilities.

When the demand for ICT-trained personnel emerged in the late 1980s, forward-thinking universities began to offer courses accordingly. Today, all of WA’s universities have schools or departments offering a wide range of accredited courses in ICT.

University undergraduate ICT courses are often three years in duration, allowing students to study a wide range of subjects in the form of majors, minors and electives. Most undergraduates end up with a bachelor’s degree.

Although clearly well educated in ICT principles, university graduates are sometimes found to be lacking in technical application skills required by ICT employers. This is hardly surprising, as universities traditionally are educational institutions concerned with the crucial role of developing and teaching theory.

However, business organisations often have an immediate need for ICT graduates possessing hands-on procedural knowledge, such as the use of particular hardware and software applications. Although university graduates are well schooled in the principles upon which these applications operate, not all employers are willing to take on the task of assisting them bridge the gap between theory and practice.

University graduates often realise this and it is not uncommon for them to follow up their university education with specific technical training.

“Up to 70 per cent of our IT diploma candidates are university graduates seeking specific skills required to enter industry,” said Julianne Sparke, regional director of Spherion Edu-cation, a registered training organisation that provides IT training and vendor certification in Perth.

Universities, however, have recognised this demand for candidates skilled in technical applications and have begun to consult with the ICT industry more extensively. In doing so, they are seeking to provide stronger procedural skills training within the context of the broader educational curricula, developing graduates with sound interpersonal communications skills and a proven ability to engage in sustained learning. This will make the desirable university degree even more so in workplace environments requiring astute customer focus and the ability to move with rapidly changing technology and market demands.

As is the case with universities, TAFE colleges are a major source of accredited ICT education and training in WA. They provide students with a wide range of accredited ICT qualifications at the certificate, diploma and advanced diploma level. Being vocational in nature, ICT courses offered by TAFE colleges are very much hands-on and are closely tied to the requirements of local industry.

Challenger TAFE manager of information technology Paul Stenson said the link with industry groups was a vital one.

“Our accredited certificate and diploma courses are reflective of those skills called for in industry,” he said.

“This is clearly evident, for on completion of these courses our graduates are not only equipped to enter industry roles, but are often eligible for advanced standing in university degrees. In many cases they have taken significant steps towards readiness for vendor certification exams.

“We also get the ball rolling early, offering a number of our certificate programs in the State’s high schools.”

Mr Stenson said it was important to develop graduates with sound professional skills to complement those of a technical nature.

“In addition to technical competencies, our programs focus on professional skills required in the workplace, including those of a high level, such as project management,” he said.

The demand for qualified ICT personnel has also created the perfect opportunity for private enterprise to enter the training market. Many such organisations now operate in WA. These offer students a range of accredited qualifications, such as certificates, diplomas and advanced diplomas that can be used for industry employment or act as a university entry mechanism.

Privately operated ICT training organisations also offer accredited courses in addition to popular vendor certification programs. These programs provide students with hands-on training in hardware and software products in preparation for industry roles and vendor certification exams. Such certifications include the Microsoft Certified Professional and the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.

Spherion Education’s Julianne Sparke said industry placed significant value on these qualifications.

“We have found during our regular consultations with industry that employers are often seeking candidates either possessing the MCSE or MCP or making progress towards them,” she said.

However, Ms Sparke also emphasised the importance of developing well-rounded candidates who possess more than just technical skills.

“Students with good communication and interpersonal skills have always been highly regarded by employers,” she said. “It is for this reason our programs not only provide candidates with technical skills, but also the professional development they require to meet industry expectations.”

Qualifications acquired through universities, TAFE colleges and private organisations have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. The university degree, for example, despite its technical shortcomings, will probably al-ways carry weight in industry due to the level and comprehensiveness of the education it provides. Many companies almost compulsorily employ staff with university degrees to establish the credible and professional image required to do business with large, multinational clients.

However, graduates possessing sound technical application skills are also of great attraction to industry employers, due to their ability to perform the procedural tasks so highly in demand. The use of TAFE colleges and private training organisations as ‘finishing schools’ by many university graduates is testament to this.

What is most notable, however, is that universities, TAFE colleges and private training enterprises have recognised the importance of offering ICT career preparation that allows the development of the complete graduate – one who possesses solid technical skills as well as sound interpersonal skills and the ability to learn continuously. It is this type of graduate that the ICT industry values most highly, due to the desirable combination of technical skills and personal attributes they bring to the workplace.

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