This is part four of a CDN series on millennials, the IT skills shortage, and the evolving workforce, which will include five articles. Stay tuned to CDN for follow-ups exploring the role of women in IT.
It used to be that the length of an economic cycle was about a decade.
A new trend like the Dot-com era would catch on, investors would get zealous, governments would funnel money into school programs, and graduates would snatch up jobs before the market corrected itself, forcing some companies to file for bankruptcy, workers to flee to other industries.
In today’s tech world, however, this is a thing of the past, at least, according to Susan Sim.
“[The boom and bust cycle] has certain shortened,” said Sim.
During the last two decades, which span her career from being a graduate student at the University of Toronto to becoming a full-fledged lecturer at the school’s Faculty of Information, she has seen the pendulum swing multiple ways.
The most recent, with the real estate crash in 2008, seemed to be in technology’s favour.
“Enrollment in computer science has doubled in the last five years,” said Sim. Her own university has gone from just over 600 undergrads with a major or specialization in computer science in 2010 to just under 1,500 last year.
This all happened organically with no special advertisements or recruiting efforts from departments, according to Sim, who said that the real estate crash in 2008 may have been a contributing factor. She added that her colleagues across North America including ones from Cornell University, Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford, Georgia Tech and even Queen’s University are reporting similar findings.
Yet, despite what seems to be another boom in tech, graduates are not being snatched up, according to Sim. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“Students are having a very hard time finding their first job after they finish their degree,” she said. “I have students in front of me who are sending out hundreds of resumes. They are throwing resumes at anything that moves.”
Despite constant changes to courses, increasing pressure to teach advanced topics sooner, teaching tools that are easier to use, and students in general graduating with more knowledge, the curriculum is just too full. Some practical topics such as cloud computing have not even made it in.
Sim pointed to what seems to be a disconnect between what companies expect from graduates and what they are able to learn during the span of their degrees.
“Companies want people with experience; they think it’s very competitive,” she explained, adding that while they used to be more willing to train people, companies no longer have the patience. “If you want somebody that’s 100 per cent ready to go, they’re going to struggle. But if you’re willing to train up somebody, you have a lot more choices.
The same problem seems to persist among those in their 40’s and 50’s, who need up to half a year to find work despite having extensive experience. In other words, despite demand for IT professionals, those looking for work are having difficulty.
“I think companies are saying ‘we can’t find qualified people,’ and the students are saying ‘we can’t find jobs,'” said Sim.
And as for challenges to attracting young people to IT? There are none, Sim said and laughed.
“It’s a very attractive discipline right now,” she said. “They just keep coming. We’re attracting students from all over.”
The issue is understanding that they are not as hard to manage as they are made out to be.
Among the things fresh grads are looking for in a job are a steady income, full-time work, benefits and a workplace that treats them well, in addition to meaningful work. Sim says that she would want the same things, and if companies are smart, they will embrace this.
“They want to know they matter at the end of the day,” Sim explained. “These are the kids we told to recycle in grade school because the little things they do matter. I think they believed us. For the better.”