You either have IT, or you don't

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 11th, 1999
The Star Ledger

The Technology crisis is facing small and large businesses across the country but the solution is in our hands.

The crisis consists of a shortage of information technology (IT) professionals. About 346,000 IT positions remain unfilled, according to a joint study conducted by the Information Technology Association of America and Virginia Polytechnic Institute. With the nation's economy becoming increasingly dependent on high-tech processes, this gap can slow our country's economic development.

Experts at PC Age, a computer training school in Metropark and Parsippany, have theories on the problems and solutions regarding the IT shortage. The IT shortage itself is only part of the problem, they say.

And the suggested solutions, which usually center on expanding visa programs to enable more foreign computer professionals to enter the United States, only provide a bandage instead of a cure.

As evidenced by a number of studies, the shortage of IT professionals is firmly rooted in the relatively low number of people who are entering the field-or, more accurately, the large number of men and women who are not studying IT. For example, studies conducted by the federal General Accounting Office indicate that only about one-quarter of the employees currently in IT-related positions have a degree in the field. Many were originally trained in engineering, mathematics and other disciplines.

The long-term solution involves increasing the pool of available programmers, systems analysts, computer engineers, and other IT professionals. It is therefore the mission of companies such as PC Age to bolster student interest in IT as a profession.

Experts at PC Age suggest the answer lies in expanding the methods of IT education and, equally important, in broadening the categories of candidates who are deemed eligible for IT training.

Traditionally, colleges and universities have tried to track math and science students for computer-related courses. Limiting the applicants to math and science majors, however, tends to diminish the pool of IT candidates. By contrast, some IT training centers and schools tend to admit applicants indiscriminately. Although this has the desired effect of broadening the pool of IT candidates, it also means that many of the people who sign up may be disappointed when they complete the course, because they really were not a good match for the profession to begin with.

The key, then, is determining whether an individual is well suited for IT before he or she actually begins the training process. But doing that involves disposing of some old beliefs, and developing a new approach. It is no longer enough to take a group of individuals, herd them into a classroom and assume that everyone who passes a course will go on to a fruitful career in computers.

While no one should ever be discouraged from trying to rise to the top, there are intellectual and psychological guideposts that can suggest where a person's efforts are best placed. An aptitude test, properly designed, can indicate the IT level that is best suited for an individual.

An aptitude test, properly designed, can indicate the IT level that is best suited for an individual.

Click Here to Take the Aptitude Test

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