Bridging the Gap between Tertiary-IT Education and the Work Place

23 April 2014

We spend a lot of years in school, studying towards what we believe is our destiny and will prepare us for the work place. During this period of studying, we are taken through various subjects that take different angles to try and simulate as much as possible of what it is that we are going to come across in the workplace. Some courses in tertiary have adopted trends or methodologies that make you ineligible to acquire your qualifications if you do not do experiential-training. Experiential-training is a period in which you seek formal employment for a certain amount of time depending on the course and institution you are in.

In information Technology, regardless of which discipline you follow networking, programming, technical support, web design, etc. Most institutions do not require that you do any formal training except for the final year project. The projects are great for your problem solving skills and for technically preparing you, but one thing they never prepare you for is what awaits you in the work place.

Entering into the industry, I was more curious than nervous. I had never been in a development house before. I didn't know what to expect. Whether anything I had learnt from the past few years was going to enable me to add any value, how I was going to fit into the system, and if I was really going to be getting paid for doing something I love and enjoy? A month went by and things started to get clearer and make sense to me. I attended meetings and watched on as other developers went about their business.

It is in that period that I realised that there is a huge gap between IT studies and the working environment. It comes as no surprise that statistics show that we have a lot of IT graduates who are still unable to get employed. There are job adverts/requirements from companies that want experienced graduate students, where they acquire that experience remains a mystery. Tertiary institutions and development industries are living in two different spheres but still expect to feed and enhance each other. As much as institutions believe to have fully prepared their students, companies still have to do a lot of training and mentoring of graduates whom most companies are not prepared to do with the market and competition in today's business. Information Technology is a fast, ever growing discipline and institutions seem to be falling further back each year and this continues to cause more unemployment. This then demonstrates a scenario of an over the wall approach, candidate X on the left side of the wall works on something to their point of completion and then throws it on the right side of the wall. The wall between these two communities is so big that none of the candidates see the other's side and have no idea what the other person does on the other side.

As much as institutions believe to be producing ready and productive students, we are faced with a forever increasing rate of unemployment. This problem is not something that can be eradicated in a short amount of time, but for as long as these two entities choose to work in isolation, the problem will continue to grow and so will the gap between the two. This can be dealt with by a simple solution of companies having an annual presentation of what they are working on and what they require from passionate students in IT. But as always companies are too busy making money to be doing this sort of exercise, even though it would benefit them in the long run. The initiative might then sit with the institution to send representative to learn about their needs and technology which they need to educate learners about.It is very unfortunate that we hardly get the time to do the smallest things that contribute to the bigger picture. We are concerned about balancing the numbers and making profit and ignoring the grooming and small details in the puzzle.

This therefore leaves the initiative with the learners themselves to do research, which turns out to be a very difficult exercise because companies keep most of their activities encapsulated from the outside world. It seems to be a very difficult gap to eliminate for either party, but it is only difficult in the sense that all this parties refuse or ignore the need to establish an effective communication channel. And for as long as this continues the gap will continue to increase to the point that companies will no longer see any value from students coming fresh out from varsity.

Vhonani Makhado

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