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System i Goes to School

IBM brings academics and business together.

IBM brings academics and business together.

Grappling with a graying workforce, yet rising demand for System i* expertise, IBM is reaching out to bridge this widening gap. By bringing academia and the business community together, it's creating an educational program that offers the necessary training for today's and tomorrow's System i jobs.

An innovative response to customer demand, the IBM* Academic Initiative for System i is part advocate, matchmaker and teacher. Originally begun a few years ago, the Academic Initiative was relaunched this year to help customers find students with System i training. "We do have a graying workforce where many of those with expertise are maturing," says Linda Grigoleit, program manager, System i Academic Initiative. "We have an urgent requirement for the vitality of the brand to make sure we are training the next generation." With enrollment in IT courses on the decline worldwide due to media hype about outsourcing, the dot-com bust and the economic downturn, fewer students were learning about the System i platform to the dismay of potential employers. To remedy the situation, IBM created an action plan to help businesses, academic institutions and students.

The Academic Initiative has three main objectives. First, increase the number of students learning System i products and technology. Next, maintain a steady stream of System i skills for IBM's customers and partners. Finally, influence the next generation of students so they're aware of System i hardware and increase the knowledge at the university level.

School Search

Currently, more than 250 schools in 25 countries are working with System i hardware. The Academic Initiative's first order of business is to assess these programs. Grigoleit's group is surveying the schools and their curricula in order to help customers find the schools with the appropriate System i programs. "We will be assessing the responses to identify the schools that are doing a great job," she says. "The Academic Initiative will work with these schools and the business community to enhance the program offerings. We'll also be working with those schools where only a few System i courses are being taught." This kind of advocacy will assist in bolstering existing programs as well as creating new ones.

Creating a trained potential workforce is ineffective unless the business community knows a pool of talent is available. That's why the Academic Initiative's matchmaking role is so crucial. Companies and schools may be in the same region but not know each other. Making sure the existing and new schools in the System i program are tightly linked to the business community is at the heart of the Academic Initiative. "Linking IBM customers with the schools will help enable students to find jobs in the System i business community," Grigoleit says.

In addition to linking graduating students with jobs, IBM encourages partners and customers in those communities to provide student projects and internships to give students real-world experience, Grigoleit explains. It's a win-win situation. "The business community gets a first-hand look at the students who might be employed when they get out of school, and it gives students access to jobs. Further, if the schools know there will be jobs available, they will see that the students get the right training," according to Grigoleit.

Getting the two sides introduced to each other is key, but the Academic Initiative's work doesn't end there. One of Grigoleit's roles is to keep the dialogue flowing between the two sides. For example, businesses must keep universities apprised of the skill sets required for potential employees. To foster that dialogue, IBM sponsors System i Skills Roundtables. "We invite a number of customers and partners to the roundtable so they can discuss their skill requirements and let the professors know what's required on the job. It gives the professors the chance to probe deeper to understand the needs of the business community," Grigoleit says. And based on those roundtables, the Academic Initiative receives valuable feedback on course development requirements.

"The System i platform is a business system, and our customers need graduates who understand how to use the technology to solve business problems." -Linda Grigoleit, program manager, System i Academic Initiative

Shirley S. Savage is a Maine-based freelance writer. Shirley can be reached at savage.shirley@comcast.net.



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