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IBM Academic Initiative Connects Enterprises and Skilled Graduates


Making the Connection

No absolute standard defines which approach is the right one. Rather, faculty seek to find out from businesses in the community what their needs are and what should be taught to equip students with salable skill sets and serve the industry.

“The CIO of one of the casinos in Nevada told me he can’t afford to hire one guy to keep the machine running well and another to run the applications,” Glass says. “He needs people who can do both. That’s why it’s so important for schools and businesses to talk.”

“IBM provides us with the top-of-the-line infrastructure, and we can teach what the industry needs going forward,” Nields says. “We need to get to the CEOs and CIOs of the world and say, ‘We may have your answer over here, and if we don’t have your answer, tell us what you need and we can make it happen.’ ”

With the Academic Initiative, IBM can act as a matchmaker, helping IBM users in need find trained people, and vice versa. To facilitate, Glass’ team is developing a job board on which IBM customers can post open positions. Members of the Academic Initiative can access the board to look for what may fit with their students. It’s a tool with broad reach.

“Yesterday, for example, an IBM customer told us he needed to hire 10 RPG programmers,” Glass says. “With the job board, faculty at the member schools will have real jobs right in front of them to point their students toward.”

The job board can also streamline the process of hiring for IT shops. At their fingertips they have a reliable source for skilled staffers. Openings listed may go beyond full-time jobs—organizations can post internships or offer co-op positions, which let them work with prospects before hiring to determine whether they’re a good fit. This type of outreach helps generate buzz in college computer science departments, which can lead to greater participation in the programs.

The latter is not to be undervalued. One of the challenges in these days of mobile apps is raising student interest in RPG and showing them the tangible benefits of accruing that skill set.

“When college-age students see RPG on the curriculum, they say, ‘I don’t want to study that, I want to learn .NET, I want to learn mobile application development,’ ” Nields says.

Yes, students want—and need—to learn skills for the emerging market, but in an economy where 50 percent of college graduates fail to find jobs, an IBM-focused curriculum that offers a good chance of employment can be a powerful motivator.

“The cool part is that they can learn this unique thing and they can make more money than they can with the .NET programming that everybody in the world is doing,” Nields says. “If I can say, ‘If you study this, you’ll probably walk away with a job,’ they’ll come.”

“I tell students that a combination of DB2/SQL education and either general IBM i platform knowledge or RPG/COBOL programming will virtually guarantee a job with a starting salary over $45K,” Flagler says. “This has been borne out by recent graduates.”

Other popular aspects of the Power Systems Academic Initiative include programs to teach the teachers; for example, helping with revisions to courseware or access to user conferences like the Power Systems Technical University. Additional outreach efforts attract students to user-group meetings or periodically collocate those meetings at schools so students can both learn and be inspired.

Ultimately, these efforts are aimed at ensuring the future of the program to the benefit of all. “We hear rumors that companies are thinking about abandoning these IBM platforms because they can’t find people to work on them. There’s no need to do that, especially because it’s the best server out there,” Nields says. “Tell us what you need, and we can start altering our curriculum or offering classes. In the meantime, we may already have people for you.”

Kristin Lewotsky is a freelance technology writer based in Amherst, N.H.



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